The past two blog posts have been discussing the various aspects of Lent – Ash Wednesday, why we give things up, etc. But so far, I have only discussed the process of eliminating things from one’s life and daily routines during Lent; however, there is also a lot to be said for making positive additions as well. I talked previously about my interactions with my friends on Ash Wednesday, both Christian and non-Christian, both parties asking what I was giving up for Lent; my response to both groups was the same – I have no idea. For me, I have tried time and time again to give up candy or soda, or limit my TV time, just to name a few examples; but each time, I would go two or three days, maybe even a week before I would give in to temptation and go back to my previous habits. Then comes the guilt, and my prayers to God to forgive my slip ups and weakness. But over the last few years, I have come to realize that it is less about what you give up – the object, habit, what have you – and more about the way you remember and enact the sacrifice. It is less about giving up smoking or candy or TV, and more about the positive actions that come about through the elimination of such habits. Or rather, it is about the positive effects that come from a clear mind and focus on the more important things than what your habit may be.
What does this mean? Well, for the last few years, instead of struggling through giving up caffeine or chocolate for example and constantly feeling mentally occupied by the temptation to backslide, I should focus that attention and enthusiasm on something that will affect not only my life, but the lives of others as well. This does not mean that I go out and share the Word of God with people left and right; the outcome shouldn’t be to evangelize and bring more people into the fold in the process. Lent is supposed to be a time of repentance and remembrance of the sacrifices that Jesus made in the desert so that I can be who I want to be, free of any restraints that may be holding me back. However, this does not mean that I can be free of my obligation to love on others in any way possible. What I’m getting at here is that there is such an emphasis placed on making a symbolic sacrifice similar to that Jesus made 2000 years ago in the desert; but why can’t we as humans/Christians/churchgoers not only make a sacrifice, but also take on something as well. What do I mean by this? Lets bring it back to the example I used. Last Lent, I gave up candy for not the first Lent, and as usual, I struggled through, failing a few times (a huge understatement), and always feeling guilty that not only cheated myself, but also that after everything he gave me, that I cheated Jesus as well. But no matter how hard I tried, it always seemed as though I was giving up for cheating Jesus by not being able to keep up my end of the bargain. There is nothing worse than feeling as though you have failed in general. But what is worse, I can’t even begin to imagine what it truly feels like to have failed Jesus, but that is what it feels like to fall down during Lent. So a thought came to me – why not do something positive for others during Lent, rather than just giving something up? Not only is this more empowering personally, but it is also has the potential to have a positive effect on others as well! Hopefully in the process, I will learn something as well!
But what types of things can I do, you might ask? Obviously, I’m a college student, so I don’t have an endless about of money or time, but that doesn’t exclude me from still doing something kind and empowering toward others! For example, last year, I tried to do random, and hopefully anonymous acts of kindness across campus; so I would hold the doors open on campus for people whenever I could, or if I found a dollar, I would go to the vending machine and buy something and leave it there. It doesn’t necessarily have to involve money or a massive amount of time. The aim of the project is to affect change in your community and upon those you might not necessarily interact with. You might next ask, “Wait a second, what does that have to do with Jesus, anyway? You’re not preaching the gospel to others, so where does Jesus come in?” That’s a good question, my friend! As per usual, I refer back to pretty much every single one of my previous blog posts in which I discuss how to be a good Christian or churchgoer – through our actions first, and then if necessary, through our words (aka the Word). In the end, the random acts of kindness done in the name of God – meaning that each time I do something for others, I try to think of God and thank Him for allowing me to do them – will go far further at Smith (especially with its outlook on Religion and being a faithful person) than me standing in the Campus Center preaching the Word for all people to hear (or rather, NOT hear…). I want to change the world for God, and I think that God put me on this earth to serve Him in a church through ministry; but I can impact the world now as a 22-year-old Smith College senior by doing things for others when and where I can.
Ultimately, Lent should be about making changes, both to ourselves and to others, in order to make more room for quality time with God. Why not start with changing myself through trying to help and change others? I’m not suggesting that you should try to convert your roommate or hall-mate; that might not go over that well, and you will probably have to apply for a room change. Rather, you could try to write your roommate a happy Monday note, or ask them how their day was – something small, but yet significant when pursued over a period of time. They may or may not know that you are doing anything in the first place, but they will feel as though perhaps someone loves them, or that their day is on their side. Little acts certainly go a long way, especially when they come out of nowhere and are unexpected.
Make it your goal for tomorrow – to do a little random act of kindness for someone that you don’t know. Not only will their day be made a little brighter, but I can almost guarantee that yours will be as well! Give it a try!