Lent 2020

Give up or give back?

by Cathy Clement

From childhood I remember the run-up to Lent being framed with the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?” As an adult, I recall the priest in charge of children’s ministries saying from the pulpit that he had given up jelly beans for Lent. Surely the kids could relate to that sacrifice. But then he quickly added that barely had Lent begun before he amended his discipline to exclude only black and purple jelly beans. 

A couple of years ago I gave up alcohol for Lent. Being the designated driver one evening for four emotional adults in my cozy Prius was both no fun and funny. The next year I decided to address a matter of the soul by giving up something that agitated me on a daily basis – Facebook. I was out of it socially but more peaceful emotionally. 

Then I considered reframing my Lenten discipline from not what I give up to what I give back. This change in direction brought me to today’s scripture.

In the gospel lesson for Ash Wednesday Jesus instructs us on what “acts of righteousness” look like. He examines three acts of righteousness: giving (vv. 2-4), praying (vv. 5-15) and fasting (vv. 16-18). He uses the same word to describe how each is to be practiced. Give in secret. Pray in secret. Fast in secret.

How satisfying is it to see someone’s need and address it without getting credit? How rewarding to pray – even for those we oppose – without telling? How blessed to fast without drawing attention?

This year Lent will be for me a spiritual practice of generosity – in giving, praying and fasting. And that won’t feel like giving something up but giving back.

Cathy Clement is the retired Director of Philanthropy at Five Acres, a child-abuse prevention, treatment, and education center in Altadena, California. She is a member of All Saints Church, Pasadena, and the president of the TENS board of directors.