By Jonathan Greer
Taking on a Lenten practice was not part of my upbringing, and my early knowledge of the Lenten season was based on people giving up vices and eating fish on Fridays. As I moved into adulthood, I began to see Lenten practices at work in the lives of my friends, but still struggled to find a spiritual discipline or goal to incorporate into my Lenten season.
Last year, I discovered an idea of writing letters to loved ones and friends, with the specific purpose of expressing and acknowledging my gratitude for their presence on my life. I created a spreadsheet prior to Wednesday, February 26, 2020 and set off on a goal of writing a letter every day for the Lenten season.
And then . . . COVID-19. My spreadsheet maintained its structure throughout Lent, but the looming doom of the pandemic truly pressed on my writing and those reading my letters. It was through those weeks when I leaned into the emotional and mental space of the project. I knew my friends were feeling the same sort of anxiety, despair, and uncertainly as I was, but I also knew my project provided a sense of comfort and stillness that we all needed during the early days of the pandemic.
Personally, taking time to write notes of thanks was a spiritual practice in humility but also deep gratitude which I could truly formulate in my written words. In every note, I purposely finished with “I am grateful for you.” Those important words are not always something I have had the opportunity to say in person, and with the realities of social distancing and the spreading virus, I feared there was a risk I might never be able to say them in person again. My notes took on an earnest feeling as I wrote letters to loved ones throughout my life who have truly impacted where I am today.
In total, I wrote 47 notes (I doubled up on days when I had friends with birthdays), and it was a great moment of appreciation and joy for having such amazing friends and family in my life. What I didn’t expect was the impact it would have on others. In some cases, I received letters back from those who wanted to share their gratitude in the impact I had made in their life. In one case, I received a tearful call expressing the power of receiving the letter at a very low day in a friend’s life. And yes, I received numerous texts and emails from friends who wanted to express their appreciation for the time I had taken to write the notes.
The Lenten season for 2021 has nearly come to an end, but taking on spiritual practices does not have to be exclusive to a season.
Isolation, fear, and anxiety are still realities for so many of us as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, so the impact of expressing gratitude can still have powerful spiritual and Godly implications. There is a beauty to opening your mailbox and finding within the magazines, bills and political campaign flyers a heartfelt note from a friend or loved one. The cost and time it takes to write and mail a letter or note is still fairly minimal, but the emotional, mental, and spiritual impact can be monumental for those who receive our acts of love. I can tell you from personal experience: it was a spiritual journey that strengthened my friendships, my loves, my hopes, and my connection to God.
Jonathan Greer is a CBF Leadership Scholar and first year M.Div. student at Brite Divinity in Fort Worth, Texas. Jonathan resides in Dallas, where he is a member of Royal Lane Baptist Church. He is a professional singer and has a Masters in Music History and Bachelor in Church Music from Baylor University and spent several years in the hospitality industry prior to following his call to ministry. He is an avid reader, a board member of the Vox Peregrini Pilgrimage Choir, and is constantly creating new flavors of homemade ice cream.