What is Lent?
For 40 days starting on Ash Wednesday (Feb 18) and ending on Holy Thursday (Apr 2), Christians strive for a simpler and more contemplative life in an attempt to mirror the 40-day fast and spiritual journey Jesus undertook before launching his ministry.
For those who observe Lent, this is the time of year to give something up in the name of spiritual improvement.
Modern-day Christians typically pursue the path to a more spiritual life by giving up everyday luxuries like coffee, chocolate, junk food, television and alcohol.
Some kick off Lent with a fast, and endeavour to fast every Friday during the 40-day period.
Others opt to deny themselves something they will surely miss or cannot live without. The whole point is to bring oneself closer to God.
But this year in his Lenten message, Pope Francis suggested that simply giving up a vice isn’t enough. The point of Lent, he said, is to give something up for the good of others, and not only for our self-betterment.
The Popularity of Going Without
The idea of giving something up for the purpose of self-betterment has become a popular practice beyond Lent. In this age of instant gratification, many people choose to willingly remove life’s many temptations in order to experience the benefits of self-sacrifice.
These benefits include a healthier lifestyle, a more intimate understanding of oneself and an appreciation for the things that truly matter in life.
Countless blog posts, articles and books have chronicled practices ranging from elimination diets to decluttering to meditation retreats to denial of everyday luxuries in order to achieve these benefits:
- Give It Up!: My Year of Learning to Live Better with Less (book)
- 5 Life-Giving Truths From Years of Living with Less (blog post)
- Less Stuff, More Happiness (Ted Talk)
All advocate for a minimalist lifestyle and the idea that less truly is more, particularly when it comes to possessions.
“Owning less brings some amazingly-practical benefits into our lives. It costs less. It requires less time and energy to maintain. It brings freedom, rest, peace, and calm into a hectic world. And it provides greater opportunity to pursue our truest passions.” — Joshua Becker
Giving Up Indifference
But the argument for going without goes beyond just the benefits of minimalism.
When we have the ability to acquire anything we need at any time, whether it’s entertainment, food, goods or information, we tend to lose certain human qualities like patience, tenacity, appreciation for what we have and concern for others.
Living a comfortable life can easily lead to a lack of understanding for those who don’t share those same privileges, according to Pope Francis.
“Usually, when we are healthy and comfortable, we forget about others. We are unconcerned with their problems, their sufferings and the injustices they endure… Our heart grows cold… Today, this selfish attitude of indifference has taken on global proportions, to the extent that we can speak of a globalization of indifference.”
— Pope Francis
To counteract this epidemic of global indifference, Pope Francis has suggested giving up indifference for Lent. “Lent is a favourable time for showing this concern for others by small yet concrete signs of our belonging to the one human family,” he writes.
Give Up Indifference by Pursuing Your Passions
Tapping into what you’re truly passionate about is one way to give up indifference. When we love what we do, or believe in a cause, we become passionate about contributing to it in a meaningful way.
So what do you care about? You can start by searching here for Canadian charities and groups that are working to solve problems in the world. And once you find a cause that speaks to you, find out how to get involved — whether by giving of your time, talent or treasure.
You may not get a better body or a healthier lifestyle or a clutter-free home by giving up indifference, but you will likely get a greater sense of satisfaction: that which comes from knowing you’re making the world a better place for others.