One in a series of occasional reflections on Lent.
Traditionally, Lent is a season of preparation for Easter. But what does that mean, to prepare for Easter?
Maybe you’re not even sure about whether you’ll be able to participate in Easter’s traditions: going to church, singing, gathering around a table with family and friends. Planning in a pandemic is fraught, isn’t it?
What if our uncertainty about Easter Sunday could redirect our focus now, in the weeks leading up to that day?
Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus. Depending on how things go, we may or may not be able to celebrate with others in the way we used to. For the second year in a row, Easter may look different.
Yet right now, aren’t you longing for resurrection? For rebirth, for miracles? You don’t have to find things to give up in order to create a somber prelude to the joyful chorus of “He is Risen!” You’re living it.
You’re longing for hopeful news, for renewal, for a fresh start. Maybe Lent is a time to live with that longing, to grieve the things you’ve lost in the last year, to be honest about the pain and loss. To not rush the lament.
A simple path forward
That being said, grief is not a destination but a process. We need tools to help move us forward, toward resurrection and rebirth. When we acknowledge the pain, we can begin to move out of it.
In many faith traditions, Lent focuses on three practices: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Jesus taught on these three practices, and his teaching is recorded in Matthew 6.
Jesus begins this teaching by warning his listeners to not brag or broadcast their “righteousness” or good deeds, but to do them quietly. His invitation offers a simple path from scarcity to abundance, from fear to faith.
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6: 1)
These quiet practices are exactly what we need to prepare for Resurrection Sunday.
Jesus begins with a call to generosity without fanfare.
2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:2-4)
Generosity is a practice that meets the practical needs of the recipient, but also transforms the giver. By being generous, we become more generous. We grow our faith as we see that God provides through us and for us. What does it look like to be radically generous, not just with stuff, but with grace? And what happens to our hearts, and our connection with God, when we do so?
Generosity during times like this is hard. We get stuck in a scarcity mindset, focusing on all we don’t have or can’t do. How can we shift from scarcity to abundance?
It’s easy to assume we need to somehow develop an abundance mindset first, in order to be generous. But that’s not how it works. It is the very daring act of generosity that transforms our mindset from scarcity to abundance. When we give grace, grace abounds more in us.
Opportunities to give are more abundant than ever this year, as more families have become food insecure and gap between those who have and those who do not continues to widen.
What would it look like for you to give to someone in need this Lent? It doesn’t have to be a financial gift—although of course it can be. A lot of people are in desperate need right now and a gift may be just what is needed. Maybe you’ll bring groceries to a family you know is struggling. Maybe you’ll drop off a meal for a friend who is sick or has lost a loved one. Maybe you’ll just listen to someone who is overwhelmed by their own grief and loss this year. Or send a note of encouragement to a friend. Just taking time for a simple act of generosity can help us loosen the grip that scarcity has on our souls.
It’s easy to think that giving will be something that depletes us. But the miraculous thing about generosity, especially when we do it anonymously or quietly, is that it fills us up. It allows us to both extend and experience God’s love.
In my book GodSpace, I write: “God calls us to be generous not for generosity’s sake, but for the sake of relationship. Whether we are generous with time, money, forgiveness, or grace, we do so in the context of relationship. It is how God loves us—lavishly—and calls us to love others. …Jesus called us to radical generosity, asking us to love extravagantly and indiscriminately.”
How do you sense God is inviting you into generosity today? How can you make giving part of your Lenten practice?