Welcome to Lent. For forty days, Christians worldwide give up vices like social media, alcohol and dessert to mimic Christ’s forty days of isolation, prayer and fasting ahead of his crucifixion.
Don’t be surprised when the world’s discourse spirals further down the drain in the coming weeks. Look at all the caffeine-deprived, sugar-crashing screen addicts who will be exhausted. And twitchy. And hangry.
I am a recovering evangelical Baptist. I was taught Lent was a Catholic construct, a works-based look-at-me bit of wrong-headed dogma that would not lead to heaven, so I never practiced it.
Besides, evangelical authorities ordered me to deny temptation every day, 365 days a year. What could I possibly give up when I was required to sign a code of Christian conduct that forbade alcohol, drugs, pre-marital sex, abortion, homosexuality, adultery, movies, masturbation, using God’s name in vain, cheating, lying, idol worship, cursing, wild parties, the love of money, dressing or acting like a sexual temptress, and consorting with those who partook of such heinous atrocities?
I was exhausted and twitchy, hangry and horny for three decades before walking away from such legalistic nonsense. What good could come from embracing Lent?
Last night, I polled several of my friends about their planned sacrifices for Lent. Guess what? Nobody was giving up anything. Instead, two of them said they would be GIVING BACK.
I leaned forward in my chair. “What do you mean by giving back?” I queried.
One said he carries bags of food in his car. Whenever he sees a panhandler asking for money, he stops and gives them food. Most take it. Some don’t. But he figures he made a few souls less hungry.
Another said she assembles small sacks of bathing and personal hygiene supplies for the homeless. Whenever she sees a homeless person, she offers them a small luxury they may never allow themselves with whatever money they manage to procure.
Their insights led me to think differently about Lent. What if we spent the next forty days easing the world’s suffering? How could we change the world by giving back instead of giving up?
A few ideas for ways to give back during Lent.
Volunteer for a grassroots campaign. In 2020, we face the most monumental election of my lifetime. Spend a few hours canvassing for a preferred candidate. Host an informational event in your home. Help register voters. These actions will make a difference well beyond forty days of Lent.
Practice empathy. Pick a struggling friend from your newsfeed. Reach out in person. Ask her what you can do to help. Listen to her response. You may discover that your personal acknowledgement is the biggest dose of empathy you can give another soul. It might be fuel she will run on for weeks.
Thank someone anonymously. If you see someone in uniform dining in an airport, tell your server to quietly put their meal on your tab. Send flowers to acknowledge another’s sacrifice. Leave a favorite book or baked good on a doorstep. Contribute supplies to care packages for our service people in war zones overseas. Share how another person inspires you without revealing who you are.
Thanks to my friends, Lent will always be about giving back. I hope it helps me develop better listening skills, more empathy and deeper connections to those suffering around me.
And if we do it over drinks and dessert, even better.