Fr. James Martin, S.J., gives his tips for being kinder and more grateful, even when you don't feel like it.
James Martin, SJ, is best known as a Jesuit priest, as editor at large of America, and as the author of several books including the New York Times bestselling Jesus: A Pilgrimage and Seven Last Words: An Invitation to a Deeper Friendship with Jesus.
And yet, when it comes to Lenten practices, it appears Fr. Martin is most interested in being known for something else: for being kind and for being grateful, two things he’d like to see more of in all of us: More kindness, less complaining.
Being kind, Fr. Martin says, looks simple, but is surprisingly difficult. It’s something we should all try to practice every day, but focus on especially during Lent. Here are the three components that Fr. Martin says he uses to put kindness into practice in his everyday life:
1. “Don’t be a jerk,” Fr. Martin says. “That is, even if you’re tired or sick or angry or frustrated or overworked, there’s no need to pass along your misery to the next person. You can choose not to be a jerk.”
2. “Honor the absent. Stop talking about people behind their backs. Nothing is as damaging to the social fabric. It will make people feel bad when they find out about it. And they usually do.”
3. And lastly, “Give the benefit of the doubt. If you’re not sure how someone means something,” he says, “ask. Always assume good motives too. These may seem like small things, and being kind may seem obvious, but it’s at the heart of the Christian life.”
Kindness comes easier to us when we establish another spiritual practice, one that we’d do well to keep going long after Lent is over.
“Stop complaining so much,” Fr. Martin says. “One of the things that I’ve realized lately is how unappealing constant complaining is. And how often it leads to despair. I have known a few champion complainers and even a short time around them made me feel dark. Of course, it’s important to share your frustrations and struggles with your family and friends, and with God in prayer, but you don’t need to be so constantly negative around everyone you know.”
The benefit? Fr. Martin says this practice makes him “feel much happier and calmer. I’m not the source of complaints as much any longer, so I don’t bring everyone else down, and I don’t regret the things I say as much. It’s quite a healthy practice.”
Of course, Fr. Martin admits that life does tend to get in the way of this particular practice. “Life is always throwing some unforeseen roadblocks in your way—poor health, financial problems, struggles in the family or in the workplace. So complaining is easy. It feels natural. But the key is knowing that you don’t have to complain. You have a choice.”
Especially, he says, in light of the Resurrection, which we await during Lent. “When you’re around Christians who are constant complainers, you start to wonder if they really believe that Christ is risen, that nothing is impossible with God, and that the Holy Spirit is powerfully among us,” Fr. Martin says. “Toxic negativity can bring us right back into the tomb. As if all hope were lost. But the Resurrection, the final chapter in the story of Lent, is Good News!”
Living out this Good News without so much complaining, Fr. Martin says, will leave you feeling happier and making those around you happier. “You’ll also feel more grateful since, your attention won’t be focused on the bothersome little things any longer,“ he says. “So more happiness for you and everyone else. What better payoff is that?”