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What will you give up for Lent?

In Church and State, Gratitude, Holidays, Non Profit on February 15, 2010 at 8:45 am

As Christians celebrate their last few days before Lent, a traditional period of sacrifice, we move toward voluntary austerity in our lives. We prayerfully reflect for 40 days in remembrance of the 40 days Jesus was tempted in the desert. We celebrate at the beginning of the season to use up the fat and meat in preparation, hence the terms Fat Tuesday or Carnival, (farewell to meat as a literal translation). We celebrate at the end of the season with the joyful resurrection of Jesus. The forty days are book-ended with festivity, as if the forty days were endless, instead of a moment in time. 

What if everyday of life was a struggle with poverty and hunger?  What if you were homeless? What if you lost your job? What if you had drug-addicted parents? What if the conditions of your life were not chosen, but merely a circumstance of birth? 

These are scenarios all too familiar. Today, 49 million people around the nation will be hungry. It is all too easy for those of us with full bellies to complacently become what I consider the “but I’s”. What I mean by that is our attempt to explain how we would combat lack of income, but I… would never let my family go hungry, would find a job, and would do whatever it took, would not sit back and accept charity, and would pick myself up by the bootstraps… ad infinitum”.

Many of us have an inner dialogue that assumes what we would do before we went hungry. It is very easy to fall into that trap of making someone else’s problems about us. In our attempt to understand, we assume. 

It is very easy to turn away from giving with an open hand because we work hard for what we have and why should we give to someone who has never worked as we have? Why should we share what we earned rightfully? I have been tempted to add my name to a statement “make drug tests mandatory to get welfare”. It makes sense, of course. Why should someone who is doing something illegal receive the fruits of my labor? Then I wonder, what about their children? Should the children suffer because their parents make irresponsible choices? Should a child go hungry?

Much of what Jesus preached just did not make sense. Sell your possessions. Love the least among us. If you have two dollars, give one to your brother. There are no conditions attached to the call to be generous. There are no tests, hoops to jump through, or forms to sign. The call is simply to share. As Christians, we are saved by the gift of grace, we do nothing to deserve the gift, but it is ours.

As we spend the Lenten season choosing to give something up, choosing to reflect, wouldn’t it be something incredible if for 40 days, we chose to give up conditions for generosity? What if we simply give as Jesus gave, without question of merit or deserving-ness. What if we stopped thinking what we would do in such a situation and instead truly asked, What Would Jesus Do?



  1. “What if the conditions of your life were not chosen, but merely a circumstance of birth?”

    Interesting comment considering its an Atheist credo. According to most religious beliefs, we are put into every circumstance to learn and therefore the poor and hungry and drug addicted and hopeless have something to learn from their plight. Therefore we should not interfere.

    Does that mean we don’t feed them or rescue them from a life of squaller, hopelessness and addiction?

    On the other side, still with religions, the theory goes that everyone around the less fortunate have them in their lives to learn a lesson themselves. Does that mean we feed and clothe them? Or… do we only “take care of our own” because those other people (who are different than us) aren’t as valuable because they believe something different?

    In Atheism, it is ALL circumstance. Unfortunately, even Atheists look out for themselves first. That needs to change (both religious, non-religious or otherwise). That we would consider assisting or not assisting is inhumane.

    While reading this article, we are briefly considering the options to feed or not, to rescue a child or not, to get a parent off drugs or not, to provide medicine or not… twenty thousand people on the planet have died of overdose, preventable disease, starvation and committed suicide because of hopelessness.

    This is bigger than religious belief. This issue is humanity at it’s core.

    I think this is a great post thought provoking post.

  2. “Interesting comment considering its an Atheist credo. According to most religious beliefs, we are put into every circumstance to learn and therefore the poor and hungry and drug addicted and hopeless have something to learn from their plight. Therefore we should not interfere.”

    I’m not sure where that impression was learned, Ed, but I’d have to disagree wholeheartedly. In my 10 or so years working in the non-profit industry with faith groups of all persuasions, I’d say the sentiment is quite the opposite. Most faith groups I’ve worked with believe we are here to help each other and the purpose of adhering to any religious doctrine is to alleviate the suffering within our global human family. The “something to learn” bit is a relatively new product of the hyper-individualized “prosperity gospel” and “new thought” movements, which I find to be nothing more than laissez faire capitalism wrapped in a blanket of pseudo spirituality.

    I absolutely love, love, love this post. As an NPO grunt, I’ve had to deal with some of the most annoying strings attached to gifts. In reality, if you restrict your gift in any fashion, you are not legally allowed to use it as a tax write off. It would seem that even our government wants us to give freely!

    Me thinks our need to control how our gifts are used has more to do with a desire to control strangers than it does with a fear of misuse. Giving without conditions requires surrender. We don’t seem to be too good at that. Jesus surrendered wholly to love. If only we believed enough to do so as well.

  3. Thank you Ed and Aldra for weighing in. Ed, we align in many areas, especially our views towards humanity and how we ought to treat each other… but I am not sure any of my theological reading/learning has indicated that we are simply supposed to learn from our experiences. Everything I’ve learned as a Christian has taught me to help the least among us. But then we get the societal view thrown in there of “deservingness”. This is what I’m hoping we can learn to “give up” for Lent.

    Aldra, I know you must deal with this so much more often on a daily basis, the conditions attached to a gift. Funny, because then it stops being a gift and starts being a purchase, huh?

    I would just love to see what would happen if indeed we took 40 (or more) days to give freely. I bet it would be rewarding in ways we never imagined, and not just to the recipients of that generosity.

  4. Freely ye receive freely ye shall give. I learned a long time ago, when you give that you should give without restrictions or qualifications or expectations or conditions and expect nothing in return. Then it is truly a gift.

  5. Aldra, I’m not sure I said I disagreed with the post. In fact, Kim and I are on the same page a lot more often than not.

    From Aldra:
    “I’m not sure where that impression was learned, Ed, but I’d have to disagree wholeheartedly.

    The “something to learn” bit is a relatively new product of the hyper-individualized “prosperity gospel” and “new thought” movements, which I find to be nothing more than laissez faire capitalism wrapped in a blanket of pseudo spirituality.”

    Hmm… I don’t think the “something to learn” is all that new, Aldra?

    “Corinthians 12:9-10… Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

    The apostle Paul suggesting that we should revel in our weakness because it is there where we can learn to be strong. Indeed he is suggesting that assisting others is interfering with their learning path!

    “Hebrews 12:10-11… Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

    This is pretty clear… learn from your past mistakes through the punishment delivered by God.

    Psalm 32:8… “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.”

    Psalm 48:14… “For this is God, our God forever and ever; He will be our guide even to death.”

    God is the guide from beginning until end. If not for learning, why would He put us in those circumstances in the first place?

    Okay… that’s slightly off topic… and preachy.

    The conditions attached to giving with regard to religion are set out in most scriptures. If you give, you get brownie points that will be counted up at the gates of heaven. The more brownie points collected, the better your chances of living out eternity in the kingdom of heaven.

    As an Atheist and someone who sits on the boards of three NPOs, I know there is ALWAYS payback for giving… if only that I feel good for doing so. I agree that we should give without expectation of compensation in any form except that feeling of satisfaction. Still, there is always a personal motivation behind tithing.

    Kim, “deservingness” isn’t as dangerous as you might think. Those who are in need have a right to believe they deserve better (and they do deserve better).

    You’re absolutely correct (both of you) that giving should not be attached to anything other than… well… giving. If only we could extend that spirit to our governments (on a global scale). Perhaps then we wouldn’t be starving three billion people on the planet.

    Man… I’m wordy today.

    P.S. I like your blog, Aldra. I’m going to link to it from mine if that’s alright.

  6. Giving to “that over there” in order to receive a reward form “this over here” doesn’t work very well.

    “To those who have, more will be given. To those who don’t have, even what they do have will be taken away.” So says Scripture, but it doesn’t say who does the giving and taking. I believe it is US who does so.

    Any action or decision is going to be one in which we either give to ourselves, or take away from ourselves. It’s as simple as this. Is giving to another an act of giving to yourself? Or do you have to take away from yourself in order to give to another?

    If giving to another is a form of giving to yourself, you will undoubtedly experience of the truth of the statement “freely recieve, freely give”. If giving to another means you have to take from yourself, there is no growth.

    What if, for 40 days, every act you performed was an act of giving to yourself? If guilt or obligation is the “fuel” to giving, it’s not given freely. Make the following statements out loud; “I have to give money to the poor”. “I have money to give.” Notice how your body reacts to each of those statements as you make them.

    One is “fueled” by opportunity, the other is “fueled” by responsibility. Quite a difference, no? One gives to you, the other takes from you.

    Abundance begins when we have enough to give away. By giving to yourself, you will have more to give away. When Life gives to Life, more Life is created. As you enter into the Season of Lent, may you give abundantly to yourself. For God loves a cheerful giver!

  7. Ed–link to your heart’s content! Gracias.

    My apologies—I didn’t clearly articulate what portion of your statement I disagreed with. I don’t disagree that “something to learn” is a part of the Christian makeup. It’s a part of the makeup of every religion I’ve studied. I disagree with your assertion that Christian scripture teaches us not to intervene because there is something to be learned from hardship. Jesus’ life was all about intervening and, in fact, he called us to intervene to the point of tossing all our worldly possessions aside to intervene like mad.

    However, I could pull out a few dozen scriptures that counter the very points you try to make by…throwing out scripture! Ain’t Bible thumping grand?

    But I would actually like to be a little more honest here. It’s not so much the point you tried to make as the manner in which you made it. Let me begin by allowing for the possibility that I am interpreting what you say incorrectly, as interaction via type and glowing rectangles isn’t always the best means of communication. (For instance, I don’t think your post indicated that you didn’t agree with Kim’s post at all!)

    It seems you have a very specific take on Christianity that differs greatly from my own. That’s the beauty and frustration of Christianity. We can all read the same things and have completely different interpretations. I read the Bible and think–life’s purpose is to serve humanity. Someone else reads it and thinks–I need to put on a hair shirt and seclude myself from all humanity or DAYUM, that is one pissed off dude in the sky!

    For example, you say “God is the guide from beginning until end. If not for learning, why would He put us in those circumstances in the first place?” I don’t think “he” puts us anywhere. I don’t agree with a concept of a male deity sitting up in the sky, randomly intervening, blah blah blah.

    But here’s what genuinely irks me—the tone of what you say wrote reads as quite patronizing with comments such as “brownie points” and “learn from your past mistakes through the punishment delivered by God” and asserting that non-intervention in the face of suffering is a Christian trait. It’s as if those of us who adhere to a faith are idiot children, running around trying to please the Great Penis in the Sky so we don’t piss “him” off and get better treats when we die. Although some Christians most certainly interpret scripture and orient their understanding of the divine in such a manner, that’s not an accurate representation of most of us. Personally, I find such notions dehumanizing and disrespectful.

    This is a fairly common thing I see among Atheists and former Christians who have been wounded by being raised among hate-filled religious folks. There’s this pretense of kindness and understanding with passive-aggressive digs and blanket assumptions tossed around, which isn’t so kind or understanding. I mean, I get it—fundamentalist Christians can be massive douchebags, but when folks take their brand of faith and blanket us all with it, it does nothing but create greater divides.

    Again, I may have been misinterpreting what you wrote, but I want to be honest about what made me bristle.

  8. Ray, do you find the intense focus on self to be beneficial to your spiritual growth? For me, it conjures up an absolutely hilarious phrase coined by Anne Lamott–“practicing a colo-rectal theology.” I’m a firm believer that we need a whole lot less of “me, me, me” in our theology and a lot more “we, we, we.”

    Is this just an issue of semantics? As in, we need to watch our language, ensuring that our words reflect a positive frame of mind? (Totally agree with that!) Or are you asserting that we need to focus each act of generosity around the self?

    • Being “selfish” to the point of taking from another doesn’t work. Yet, when giving to another is a form of giving to myself, we wouldn’t deem that selfish at all. So, yes, it’s semantics.

      The point I was trying to make is generosity begins with each of us. What I do for another, I do for me. Jesus reminded us that what we do to the least of our brothers, we do to Him. We also are doing it to ourselves.

      If we give because we think we’ll be rewarded from an outside source later on down the road, we’ll likely find disappointment. However, if we give because it creates the experience of Joy within, that’s another matter.

      Buddah thought it would work to allow the Universe to give to him in his early years of path walking. That belief system almost killed him. Near death, he tried another approach- giving to himself. Which do we remember? an emaciated Buddah begging for scraps? or a big, fat and happy Buddah?

      What I’m asserting is if we give out of a sense of opportunity, we will be given more opportunities to give. If we give out of a sense of obligation, it will eventually deplete us and there won’t be anything left to give. And who would that benefit?

      If you’re going to give something up for Lent, meditate on what it is that, if taken away, would add to you. This, I believe, is what the Lenten season is about.

      • Ah, now I see what you’re saying, Ray! You know, this actually also supports a notion of a deep interconnectedness of all life. Me likes.

        Thanks for further clarifying!

  9. Frugal, I had a little epiphany a few weeks ago that is right along your lines of reasoning. The thought popped into my head, ‘What good would enlightenment be if I couldn’t share it with other people?’ My conclusion is, if I couldn’t share or give it away, it would just be emptiness.

  10. I just want to state for the record that I “gave” myself the very best friends on the planet. Thank you SO much for all you’ve given to this conversation. I love all of you! 🙂

  11. […] the Christian world, we are approaching Holy Week and ending our 40 days of Lent. At the beginning of Lent, I issued a call to give up conditions on […]

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