Whether you take part in the season of Lent or not, I encourage you to take part in the season of Lent!  Not because the church or someone demands that of you, but because its valuable for your body and soul. It’s a time of focus and intentionality. It’s a time to move closer to God.  In our busy lives, being focused, intentional and moving closer to God is good for your body and soul.

Most people use these 40 days before Easter to withhold from something. Deny themselves some thing. Chocolate (or your form of sugar) usually tops the list along with alcohol, tv, a bad habit, or social media. And its good to have this proposed timeframe to help you abstain and cleanse yourself if these have cluttered your daily life. But what if we, this year, instead of deleting a vice, add something helpful and beautiful to these Lenten days?  It’s not my idea, the Pope talked about this, and you know how even us not-Catholics really like what the Pope does and has to say!

“Pope Francis has asked us to reconsider the heart of this activity this Lenten season. According to Francis, fasting must never become superficial. He often quotes the early Christan mystic John Chrysostom who said: ‘No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.’ “ TIME journalist, Christopher J. Hale

The Pope believes that fasting just done for ourselves, for our own betterment is a selfish activity.  Although it may require some great self-control and perseverance, it can be a hollow act.  He stretches us to to include others in our focus and intentionality.  Francis instructs,

“Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. We end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.”

I’m guilty of being so concerned with self and my own pursuits and to-do lists, that I have often overlooked those in need around me.  Or sometimes when I do see needs, I’m too busy or I  throw my helpless hands up with a “ What can I really do anyways?”  So I do nothing. Pope Francis calls this the Globalization of Indifference, focusing too much on self and not noticing the poor and needy in our lives.  And the poor need not only be those that are in physical poverty, though that is certainly the heart of Pope Francis.  But the poor can also be those who are poor in spirit, in health, in friendship, in hope, in peace. And with that definition, the poor are all around us.  Do we see them?  Maybe this year we can commit to broadening our Lenten journey to include others in order to benefit others. Abstaining not from a thing, but from attitudes that separate human beings.  What would that look like?  Maybe something like this…

Abstaining from ignorance, stereotyping or indifference and getting to know someone from a different ethnic, religious, or socioeconomic group.
Abstaining  from bitterness and forgiving those who wronged us. 
Abstaining from judgement and opening ourselves to meaningful and respectful dialogue with those whose views are different from our own. 
Abstaining from busyness and noticing those who are lonely, forgotten or helpless.

What if we gave up that kind of selfishness for Lent?

And if we did, what would that mindful giving-up do for our body and soul? In our closeness to God?  In our daily our lives?

They say it takes 30 days to create a habit.  Maybe it’s not coincidental Lent is 40 days long.  What if we lived BEYOND ourselves and used Lent to make a habit for good, not just for ourselves, but for those who are in need all around us.”

Yes.  What if?