When I was younger, I approached Lent like the new year. I made a series of “resolutions” I would carry out during the season, such as reading the Bible more, reading through the Church Fathers, putting money in a jar for the poor every time I swore, or avoiding eating any meat, or all four. I remember when I first discovered Lent as a non-Catholic in 2000, I gave up meat for all of Lent, and I was very concerned because I thought the fine folks at the Ohio University Dining Hall accidentally gave me chicken nuggets instead of my requested fish nuggets (good thing I didn’t give up trans fats for Lent!).
I found that these disciplines were good, and that my list of Lenten goals and “giving up” did usually get accomplished, but I didn’t necessarily come out of Lent closer to God for it. I maybe came out a little healthier, or perhaps more familiar with the Church Fathers. Both are good things. However, in the last few years I have thought about the value of keeping my Lenten discipline extremely simple. Picking one theme, something that brings me closer to God and neighbor, and just focusing on that, giving something simple all of my attention.
This year I have decided on generosity. The entire life, death, and resurrection of Jesus demonstrates the generosity of God, who became one of us to save us, even though throughout all of human history we humans turned our back on his efforts at reaching out to us.
My dad jokingly calls me “Betty,” the name of my grandma, who was tight. She grew up in the Great Depression and this affected her view of giving to others. She didn’t exactly have an abundance mentality. They probably haven’t found a gene for tightness, but if there is one, I may have inherited it.
I am naturally frugal. Even now, I keep the heat in my house ridiculously low, preparing my daughter to comfortably tolerate any future ice age or apocalypse that lacks heat. I have set a goal to do an act of generosity a day that I normally wouldn’t have done. It could be giving extra time to a student or even playing with my daughter when I have a lot of other work to do.
And, I am praying the Prayer for Generosity of Saint Ignatius Loyola before bed.
Sometimes simple things can have a large effect. The effect for me so far has been for me to see how great generosity feels, and how much a little generosity to others can have a big result, in their lives, and in mine. One person’s generosity of time or money can spread through a community and impact it positively. I am not saying a few extra minutes with my daughter, or extra patience with a student will transform my community to become more like Christ, but it will definitely help.