As I grew up, one of the lessons that my grandmother repeatedly stressed is the importance of using the 40 days of lent to bring glory to God and not to kick start your newest diet craze. She would often admonish me if I would try “giving up” sweet tea or chocolate as my Lenten sacrifice, emphasizing that God could probably care less if I choose not to drink sweet tea. As I have matured in my faith as an evangelical, I often find myself thinking about her perspective on Lenten sacrifice.
Today is the first of 40 days of Lent. If you are like many people, you have already made your Facebook announcement of your fast of choice; maybe it is chocolate, sugar or sweet tea. Maybe you are actually giving up Facebook for 40 days, so you probably won’t even see this story but what if just stopping your addiction to Reese’s Peanut Butter cups isn’t enough? What if your “fast” doesn’t give glory to God?
I love this 2015 Time article discussing Pope Francis’s perspective on Lent. It completely resonates with my heart and the lessons that my grandmother shared with me over 25 years ago.
Describing this phenomenon he calls the globalization of indifference, Francis writes that “whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.” He continues that, “We end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.”
So what are some alternatives from the traditional fasting and sacrifice that will allow us to spread God’s love, to remediate indifference and to truly offer compassion during the next 40 days?
Here are my five suggestions:
- Join an international or domestic adoption advocacy Facebook group and commit to praying for 10 children per day. Pray that these children find their forever families, receive proper nutrition and medical care and most importantly that they are touched by God’s love and hope.
- Make a list of 40 people in your life and commit to handwriting them a real paper letter letting them know how much they mean to you and how grateful you are for their part in your life. Commit to praying for those 40 people.
- Choose 40 small charities and donate your “coffee money” to a different one each day. Even $5 can make a difference to a smaller organization. Share that organization on your Facebook page or social media platform. (You don’t have to mention your donation)
- Organize a last minute collection at your place of employment. Maybe water bottles for Flint or small packs of diapers for your local food bank. Commit to praying for 40 of your co-workers during this time.
- Make an extra lunch. One for you and one for someone in need. This could be the co-worker that forgot theirs today. Just leave a bright note on a bag in the fridge or table letting them know its free for the taking. Maybe a meal for your elderly neighbor, sick friend or new mom. Or make an extra lunch for a homeless person and hand it out on your drive or walk to work.
All of these suggestions require not only self sacrifice but also an act of love and compassion. They reflect more than a just 40 days without a sweet treat but a true empathy for others. It isn’t a simple fast but a deeply meaningful form of growth, connection and self-denial.
“I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.”