This is the fourth post in a series on Lent. You can find part one, the prelude, here. Part two, an overview about the six weeks of Lent and what it offers, can be found here. The third, a post about the communal nature of fasting, can be found here.
Every once in awhile, a television show goes viral. Like a good pop song or a great idea, people can’t help but talk about it — obsess over it — identify with it.. When television does this well, it’s usually because there is a compelling relationship to watch. The storyline may start out as some casual encounter, but soon, we’re drawn in by this couple, or set of partners, or brothers that have this extraordinary commitment to each other. At the climax of this storytelling, we often find that one of these strong, bold characters yields to what’s better for the other, often at great cost to their self. Some weep at the beauty of this sacrificial giving. And others more cynically deconstruct the decision. But in that moment, the show ceases to be just a show. It becomes personal. It becomes real.
I’ve always wondered why we could care so much about fictional characters in this way, but not be as moved when we see pictures of the poor or oppressed. But in the past couple of years, other brilliant minds have researched and wrote about why: because we’re only moved to care for the things that we think we can actually change.
Which, is why, many Christians have difficulty with the call for alms giving at Lent. We don’t have a picture of what alms giving means, or why it’s important. It becomes just another donation from our wallet. A donation not unlike the extra dollar we spend for breast cancer, or leukemia, or the planet. We don’t think we can do anything or change anything, so we just yield our pocket change instead.
But almsgiving is about something entirely different than mere donation. Alms giving is an opportunity to return to the image we were created in: a God who is a prodigal giver.
God doesn’t give because of obligation or responsibility. God is generous because giving until it hurts — giving your all – is actually when we see love. And God is love.*
When someone gives at that level — at the level of giving anything and everything — lives are changed. When someone gives at that level, they themselves change. They become more of who they were created to be.
For “We were made in the image of God – a giver – and we’ll never be happy until we return to that image.”*
If you really want to walk the road of lent, pick one thing that you have to give your all to for the remaining twenty days or so. Pick someone or something that you have to give your free time and your emotional energy and your money to, and dedicate yourself to it in order to better someone else’s life. Have open arms, withholding nothing. And see, see if you don’t get something more valuable and rare in return in the end.
May God fill you with grace and peace as you trust that there is enough.
**These quotes will be attributed when I find out who the appropriate person to attribute them to is.