When we think of Lent we often think of giving up something: a particular food, a bad habit, some of our hard-earned cash. But this Lent, we might want to consider expanding our prepositions. Along with giving up we might want to consider giving to, giving away, or giving back.
What might we give to this Lent? First we can give time and attention to God, that is, we can choose to devote a certain amount of time each day to prayer. If you’re taking the time to read this blog, I suspect prayer is already a priority for you. And that’s great. Most parishes offer a parish mission during Lent, a few evenings of talks by an outside speaker. We might want to give some of our time to that experience. This Lent we can also make a conscious effort to give our time and attention to others: an elderly relative, a lonely neighbor, a challenging co-worker. We might also focus on others closer to home: the spouse we sometimes take for granted, the child we might be struggling with, a particular Sister we live with but barely know, or the good friend we haven’t talked to in ages.
We might also choose to give away this Lent. It’s simple. We can stand before our open closet and see what items are in there that we can give away to our local thrift store or homeless shelter. We can check out our drawers, cupboards, and basement shelves for things others could be using. De-cluttering can be a fine Lenten practice. We might also choose to give away some of our time for a cause we really believe in—by reading up on the issue, for example, or by contacting our representative in congress. Or we can give away some time for volunteering at our church, our child’s or grandchild’s school, a women’s shelter, or even the local animal rescue shelter. They are always in need of volunteers to walk dogs or play with cats.
We can also give back during this time of Lent. As the old proverb says, “We stand on the shoulders of giants”, those people who have gone before us and whose contributions make our lives not only pleasant but also possible. What can we give back that will help insure a good future for our children, grandchildren, and generations beyond? Recycling is one way we can give back. Sorting out the plastic, cans, glass, and papers is a small thing, but it can have a big impact on our environment. Eating more healthily (less sugar, salt, and red meat, for example) can contribute to our overall health and well-being while sharing the earth’s resources more equitably.
When I think of these three prepositions, giving to, giving away, and giving back, I can’t help but think of Jesus. Jesus gave time to God by sometimes sneaking off by himself to a lonely place, a mountain, or a garden to pray. Jesus also gave his time and attention to others—from his friends and disciples to total strangers. He noticed people whom others ignored or shunned—like the widow slipping her coins into the temple treasury or Zacchaeus sitting up in that tree. Jesus also gave away. He had no home, no place even to lay his head. When he was dying on the cross, his sole possession, his seamless garment, was “raffled off” to one of the soldiers. And Jesus gave back. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he handed back his entire being to Abba his father, saying, “Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will” (Mk. 14:36). On the cross he repeated this complete self-donation with the words, “Father I place my life in your hands” (Jn. 19:30: from The Message, Eugene Peterson translation). Jesus gave until there was nothing more to give.
In all of this talk about giving, we must remember the why and how of our giving. We don’t give for giving’s sake. Our Lenten practices are not some kind of athletic endeavor that says, “See how good and strong I am!” No, we give because God gives to us first. So grateful are we to God for our many blessings that our gratitude breaks out into giving! That’s why we give. And we give with love and joy. That’s how we give. Anything less is not worthy to be a Lenten practice. My prayer for all of us is a simple one: May God bless our Lent, our six week journey of giving up, giving to, giving away, and giving back! Amen.