Last spring, my six-year-old decided that she was going to give up riding her bike for Lent. At school, they had discussed giving up something you enjoy and she loved riding her bike. However, she had recently had a growth spurt. Her existing bike was now far too small, so she wouldn’t be riding it in the weeks before Easter anyway. Not cycling would be straightforward to achieve, and therefore – in her mind – the perfect thing to give up.
The 40-day period before Easter is traditionally a time of fasting, reflection and preparation. Fasting often involves going without some type of food, for example,chocolate. However, Lent can also be an opportunity to give up something to benefit nature or help address climate change (there are several excellent ideas here). But why do we fast? And what lies behind our decisions about what to give up?
In Isaiah 58, God describes the sins of his people – the house of Jacob. They are clearly passionate about worshipping. However, they also exploit their workers and stir up quarrelling, calling into question the authenticity of their fasting. God outlines what he wants to see instead:
‘This is the kind of fast day I’m after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families.’ Isaiah 58:6-7 (The Message)
God doesn’t just want to see his people afflict themselves with hunger in a religious fervour. He wants to see them make the poor less hungry. In other words, their faith should impact their actions, the choices they make and that should make a difference to those around them. This message is worked out in Jesus’ earthly ministry and provides a pattern for our own lives too. At Easter, we celebrate the ‘Son of Man [who] came not to be served but to serve’ (Matthew 20:28).
Our choices have consequences too. The effects of human efforts to subdue and exploit creation become clearer every day, and it is the poorest and most vulnerable who are worst impacted. We are called to care for creation and our neighbours. If we are to follow Jesus’ pattern of service, then continuing to use resources without regard for others simply isn’t an option. Decisions about what we eat, how we consume energy, how we travel and so on are vital to our discipleship!
Lent provides an opportunity to take stock and acknowledge that, all too often, our day-to-day actions – like the house of Jacob – are separate from our worship and acts of faith. As we move into this season of preparedness, let’s not just take the convenient option. What habits can we seek to develop that not only transform our lives, but also enable our planet and our neighbours to thrive?
This reflection was written by Helen Hewitt for the Wild Christian email, ‘Nature and Lent.’ Helen Hewitt lives with her family in south-west London, where she runs a micro-bakery and community gardening project. Helen is a member of the Community of Hopeweavers.