This post is modified from the introduction of the Liberti Church Lent 2020 Prayerbook.
Lent is here. Historically, Christians have used three broad categories for Lenten practices: fasting, prayer, and generosity. So far, I’ve given ideas for fasting and prayer. Today, I want to talk about generosity.
If you think of these practices as external means and postures for shaping one’s soul and interior life, then fasting is a process of removing things to create a space, prayer is the way we fill those interior spaces, and then generosity is giving out of the overflow we trust is there.
To use another analogy, prayer is like the soul’s inhale, and love/generosity is its exhale; fasting or other ascetic practices are ways to increase our “lung capacity” or quicken our breath for a time from spiritual exertion in order to take in and give out more than we normally would.
Generosity is often experienced as the result and overflow that comes from the shaping of other practices and I know it’s hard to “do generosity” in a way that doesn’t at times feel rote, forced, less than we could do, or wrongly motivated.
But still, our embodiment matters. Even as we recognize or are implicitly aware of our mixed motives in certain actions, I think if we wait until we have the “correct” inner state before we move into these things, we’re likely never to do them.
So with that being said, here are some ideas for embodying generosity, even as we recognize there’s much work to be done in our hearts to free us from materialism, selfishness, and closed-heartedness.
These ideas are both ideas that communities or groups themselves can do, but they are also things that you can do that benefit your broader community and those that you don’t otherwise know that well.
- Find opportunities for service in your local congregation. This is a time when many religious organizations have different endeavors going on. My church has a weekly food ministry to those in homelessness, and leads a massive 75-church effort to give over 10,000 free meals to those in the region experiencing food insecurity.
- Connect with your neighborhood’s community development corporation and see what ways you and others might care for your area. There are often frequent volunteer activities, including tutoring and street cleaning.
- You could just clean up your block on your own whether it’s a scheduled event or not.
- Similarly, commit to going to your neighborhood association’s meetings and events through the course of Lent, and sharing this information with others.
- Commit to learning the name of and giving to every single panhandler that asks you for help. (This also means thinking ahead and always having cash on you).
- Similarly, I had friends years ago that every single meal they ate, they only ate half and gave the other half to someone they came across in need.
- This may feel unjust or unfair, but consider coming to work 15 minutes early and staying 15 minutes later to give your organization more of your time, effort, and work for no extra compensation. (By the way, sit with how this feels and maybe explore what your roadblock to this might mean?)
These next two categories bring the scope a little smaller, and think of your own more private actions and those in your relationships with those that know you.
- Each week donate money to a different organization. (But be wise. I did this in a very financially irresponsible way years ago and it took me a while to get out of the hole.)
- Have a “Lent of Yes”, where you say yes to any request made of you (within reason). If a coworker asks you to do a favor, if a friend asks for help moving, or if someone wants to do a different activity, then say yes without complaint.
- Every week (or day!) give away unnecessary items in your house and life. You can use traditional places like thrift stores or online communities like Buy Nothing to do so. (You can also make this a fasting practice by getting rid of a material possession every day, if you it’s not fit to give to others).
- Similarly, commit to not buying any material possession for the entirety of Lent. Try and end Lent with less stuff than you began it.
- In fact, you can fast from spending money unnecessarily on yourself entirely and only doing so when you can also (or only) spend it on others. Or, whenever you buy something, buy two to share.
- Extend a more generous spirit to yourself. Within reason, let yourself off the hook for things that often drag you into shame and self-criticism. Also take time in a journal, in prayer, or in therapy to identify things in you it your past which you might need to extend forgiveness to yourself for.
- Apologize for past wrongs you may have done to others (actually reach out to these people, unless doing so would cause harm). Also, extend forgiveness for others that have wronged you. Do both with no expectation of what the other person will offer in reply.
- If possible, take what you’re fasting from and give it to others. Fasting from coffee? Buy a box of coffee for your coworkers. Meat? Give a neighbor a roast. You get the idea.
- At a food or coffee spot, offer to pay for whatever the person behind you in line is getting.
- Think of those people in your life, past, or community that you know are lonely and do not receive a lot of attention from others. They may be awkward, mentally ill, poorly dispositioned, or of a lower economic status. Give your time and attention to them–and substantively so. No tokenism, but real intentional time and service.
- Only eat out when you can pay for someone else eating with you. Otherwise, don’t eat out alone and only cook at home.
- Babysit for a couple in your community (religious or otherwise) who you know have not had a night out together on their own for quite a while.
- Commit to affirming someone you know every day of Lent in specific, substantive ways.
I hope these are helpful and serve as a starting place for your own engagement in this season.
What might you be doing to act our generosity in your life over Lent?