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The ripple effect: Tiny gestures transform your Lent


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Daniel Esparza - published on 02/10/24

Sometimes grand gestures, however well-intentioned, can feel overwhelming and unsustainable. And this is where the power of small habits shines.

While scrolling through social media the other day (yes, guilty), I came across a meme that made me pause. Among other things, it claimed that simply saving $8 a day could net you a cool $3,000 by the end of the year. That’s almost $9,000 in three years, which is not a despicable sum at all. And while the financial advice had merit, what resonated more deeply was the underlying principle: small actions taken consistently lead to significant results. This certainly struck a chord, especially as we approach Lent – a season often misunderstood.

For many Catholics, Lent is a time of resolutions, big and small: giving up chocolate, committing to daily prayer, embarking on acts of charity, fostering better habits in general. All these resolutions are surely noble, but let’s face it. Sometimes grand gestures, however well-intentioned, can feel overwhelming and unsustainable. And this is where the power of small habits shines.

Lent is not as a mountain to climb. It’s more of a pebble one tosses into a still pond. While the initial ripple may be subtle, its effect spreads outward, gradually transforming the entire body of water. Similarly, small, consistent habits (like those the meme recommended), cultivated throughout our dear 40 days in the desert, have the potential to ripple outward, shaping our lives and drawing us closer to God.

Here’s how:

1. Start small, start lasting: Instead of vowing to engage in contemplative prayer for at least an hour each day, we can start with five minutes of quiet reflection instead. You are not (yet) a monk or a nun (I guess!). This manageable goal makes success more likely and fosters a sense of accomplishment that fuels motivation. Think of yourself as an amateur soccer team: small victories build momentum.

2. Look to Scripture for inspiration:The Bible is filled with examples of seemingly insignificant actions leading to great results. Think of David and his slingshot, or the mustard seed that grew into a mighty tree. Let these stories inspire your own commitment to small but powerful habits. Never leave home without your “slingshot.”

3. Offer your “pebbles” to God: We have heard this time and again, but it’s always worth remembering it: Every prayer, every act of kindness, every moment of sacrifice, no matter how seemingly small, can be offered to God.This was Therese de Lisieux’s famous Little Way. This simple act imbues even the smallest gestures with immense spiritual significance.

4. Share the ripples: As your small habits take root, share them with others. Encourage your community to join you in cultivating small acts of faith, creating a nice chain of shared commitment. Remember, even the smallest ripples can add up to create a wave of positive change. Make sure not to confuse encouraging with boasting, though. Keep an eye open for that particularly pervasive temptation!  

5. Lent is a journey, not a destination: Yes, it sounds like yet another cliché, but there is a lot of truth to those. Throughout Lent, there will surely be stumbles and days when motivation wanes. Don’t let setbacks discourage you. Each misstep is an opportunity to learn and, consequently, recommit. The beauty of small habits is their flexibility – just dust yourself off and start again. Lent is also (or perhaps mostly) about forgiveness. Learn to be forgiven.

So, this Lent, let’s give small ripples a try. Choose one or two simple and sustainable habits that align with your spiritual goals. Ask your spiritual director where to begin. Pray, think, work, and offer each small action to God. As the weeks unfold, witness the small bits of transformation in your own life and in the lives of those around you. You will soon notice that even the smallest pebble can create a shockwave of grace that draws us all closer to God.

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