Lent can feel like a somber, depressing time in the life of many Christians. The weather is gloomy, churches are bare and silent, and thinking about suffering and sin is exhausting and discouraging.
Fortunately, we are given three concrete things to do to make the Lenten season fruitful, and none of them need to involve misery or discouragement: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. The best way to avoid the gloom of Lent is to focus your Lenten attention on the life-giving love of Christ and on the service of the people around you.
Two weeks of Lent have passed, but it's not too late to focus your mind and heart more fully on the season. Here are some practical ideas to help you start or continue living Lent as a gift to others.
Why You Should Live Lent as a Gift to Others
In a SVD BROTHERS Bulletin, Fr. Karolus Boro, a Divine Word missionary, talks about the importance of using our lives to serve:
"God calls us and wants us to make a difference in this world. He wants to work through us. What matters is not the duration of our lives, but our contributions. To say it more simply, what matters is not how long we live, but how we live.
If you are not involved in any service and ministry, what excuse have you been using? God uses each of us in his mission. There are many people around us. They keep asking for our services. They are in need of our help, presence, commitment, a little attention, dedication, spiritual guidance, or spare time more than they need material things. All of these take time and faith to share with others. They require that our hearts are ready to go and serve."
We don't have to go far to find people in our lives who need care, love, and service. When you use Lent as a reminder of your call to love and serve, it becomes a season of joy and re-connection with your identity as a missionary for Christ.
Practical Ideas for Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving
In order to live Lent well, we need both spiritual inspiration and practical guidance. Here are some ideas to help you use this Lenten time to grow in love while serving others.
Spending time in prayer is an essential part of the reflective Lenten season. Time in prayer allows you to converse with God, to hear His voice, and to be nourished by His love. It can also help you see the areas of in your life where you may need to make some changes.
This Lent, consider praying alongside a friend or loved one, especially one that may need extra love or comfort right now. Pick a time to pray every day and hold each other accountable for honoring the commitment. Whether you pray separately or together during this time, you are opening up time for communion with God and strengthening your human bond with a loved one at the same time.
(Consider offering some prayers for our missionaries this Lent. Although they are often rewarded with great joy, they face many hardships in their work!)
Fasting can be a tough, but it's a very important part of re-framing our spiritual attitude during Lent. Fasting gives us a concrete way to show that we are willing to make changes and sacrifices in order to grow in love. It is hard to deny our desires for food, but the hunger we might feel reminds us of our hunger for Christ, the Bread of Life.
This Lent, consider finding a form of ministry that offers food to those who need it most. Whether this looks like volunteering at a local soup kitchen, donating cans to your parish food bank, making a meal for a new mother or a sick friend, focus on offering up your own fasting with good cheer and offering loving nourishment to others at the same time.
Almsgiving is the frequently forgotten third pillar of a good Lent. Many of us know that we're supposed to spend more time in prayer and that we have to fast on Fridays and other days throughout Lent. Somehow these things feel easier than taking a look at our budgets and considering how we are giving our money to support those in need. Yet, almsgiving is an ancient tradition in Christianity and other religions, a very old way of offering back your wealth and gifts in thanksgiving and out of a generosity of spirit.
This Lent, consider giving money so that you feel a little pinch. You may already be tithing to your parish or contributing regularly to charities (if you are not, Lent is a great time to start this practice!) so it can be hard to imagine giving more out of your monthly budget. However, there are many ways to look at your expenses and pare back enough to be able to give a little more. Maybe you give up your regular latte and use those dollars saved to make a donation to a worthy cause. Maybe you give up any unnecessary expenses for the whole of Lent and offer financial help to a family member who needs it. While God does not want us to push our budgets to the point of desperation, He does want us to look for ways we can offer those in need our love and support.
We Don't Have to Look Far to Find Ways to Serve
This Lent, allow the love of Christ and the movement of the Holy Spirit to draw you further into love and service of others. The people you are called to serve are already all around you, in your family, your friendships, your workplace, and your community.