Feeling depressed? … Giving back (helping others) transforms negative feelings
LENT is so often labelled as the difficult season where we accuse ourselves of wrong-doing, and have to make sacrifices for others, and going without. It can create a sense of being punished: not really popular in our present secular age!
And, yet, we always proclaim a God of mercy and a God of generosity. So why do we need a period of time where we variously feel frustrated and guilty?
This year, the First Reading has created a new understanding of LENT for me. It’s a time of year to ask ourselves what can we give back as a sign of appreciation? Rather than focus on our “badness”, let’s spend LENT appreciating what we have, and allow ourselves to be overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude and wonder.
It’s not logical, and yet it works: when we give a portion away to appreciate the giver, we really start to feel, more deeply, gratitude and appreciate what we have. These feelings of gratitude and appreciation wash away any depression and sadness in life.
Even in secular cultures, people do express gratitude and have moments of awesome wonder. Why me? Why have I been so lucky with this, and this, and that? But rarely have answers.
Of course there are also questions: why did God allow this to happen? Why don’t I have that? Depression in life usually begins when we focus on the negatives in our lives.
As we see Ukraine attacked and so much suffering, do we give thanks to God that we are here in our country, living in peace? And how do we show that sense gratitude?
“The priest shall take the pannier from your hand and lay it before the altar of the Lord your God.” The people in the time of Moses, were taught the value of giving back to God. When they gave their offering, they recalled where they have come from: it helped every person put their life in proper context: we are where we are by God’s generosity (=grace).
Even secular culture expresses this through LEASING arrangements where we lease a farm for a year, and pay a certain amount – if you have a kind Land owner, he might accept a percentage so that, if the season is bad, you don’t have a huge payment with little income.
We know we have a kind “Land Owner” (our generous God), who only encourages us to give what we can, and not what we don’t have.
In the early days of COVID-19 in 2020, a Catholic Landlord in New York (I think), gave all his tenants who could not pay (job losses), a period of grace for several months until they were able start again: the Landlord did not expect any back payments, it was pure gift.
We see other examples in the secular world where this model of giving back makes the world a better place: taxation! We may not like it, but it works the same way as Christian faith. We all give a little and receive much: medical, education, security, roads, etc. And in some countries, social benefits and subsidies when we lose our job or encounter a disability.
The trouble is, most of us complain about taxation, and rarely acknowledge what we receive. We deliberately make ourselves unhappy, when we could be more joyful by feeling grateful!
Our Governments don’t expect us to pay tax when we earn very little, or we lose our job.
So how do we give back to God? Where do we find this “altar of the Lord your God?”
Let’s recall the Words of Jesus: “whenever you do this to the least of one of my brothers and sisters, you do it to me.” Whenever we help someone else, we’ve given something back to God.
The most encouraging way to approach LENT is to see it as a time of appreciating what we have and expressing that gratitude, by giving back what we can to help others.
Our lives will be more joyful and full of meaning.
Finally, I leave you with a short reflection from Fr Henri Nouwen:
God’s Kingdom Is Within: The words of Jesus “Set your hearts on God’s kingdom first … and all other things will be given you as well” summarize best the way we are called to live our lives. With our hearts set on God’s kingdom. That kingdom is not some faraway land that we hope to reach, nor is it life after death or an ideal state of affairs. No. God’s Kingdom is, first of all, the active presence of God’s Spirit within us, offering us the freedom we truly desire. And so the main question becomes: how do we set our hearts on the Kingdom first when our hearts are preoccupied with so many things? Somehow a radical change of heart is required, a change that allows us to experience the reality of our existence from God’s place. H. Nouwen.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI