We often think of Lent as the time of year when we give something up. But what if, instead, we made changes in habits instead? What if we took up something, rather than gave something up?
When I lived in San Antonio, Texas, I attended the annual re-enactment of Christ’s trial and crucifixion on Good Friday. This passion play wound through the spectator-lined downtown streets. Along the way, actors posing as onlookers jeered Jesus as he walked through the city streets. It was a chilling reminder of how easily I could have been one of the people reviling our Lord.
The actor playing Jesus carried a cross the whole way. The actor chosen to play Jesus was in peak physical condition, dragging the cross through the streets. Watching him pass me, sweating and straining, the words “take up your cross” flashed through my mind.
Take up instead of give up
Growing closer to God means loving, thinking, and living as Jesus lived, even when His world turned horrifically brutal. Many of the people Food for the Hungry works with live daily lives much like Jesus lived: extremely poor, oppressed, witnesses to violence. Refugee families we work with in Lebanon, Uganda, and Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazaar region are particularly vulnerable right now.
We live privileged lives away from all of that. But during this Lent season, we can remind ourselves of others who are less fortunate, by taking up their cause in our hearts and minds.
1) Open ourselves to hurting people.
Jesus opened Himself up to a painful death, to bring eternal salvation to the whole hurting world.. Because He did that, we don’t need to save the world. But we can open ourselves to learning more about those who are hurting. Some are our neighbors, or God may call you to pray or financially support people in faraway corners of the world.
2) Focus on the main thing.
Too often I let myself get discouraged by all the need in the world. And that causes an unhealthy shutdown. “I can’t do anything meaningful, so why try?” Jesus repeatedly shows us in the Gospels how to focus on the one person in front of you. It might be the woman at the well in John 4; or the man blind from birth in John 9. In any case, Jesus cut out the cultural noise around Him and dealt with their specific needs.
You don’t have to pray for or respond to every country in the world; pick one and get started.
3) Practice every day.
Think of “taking up” as a practice, something you learn by repeated action. You may need to change certain habits. For example, you can change your news-gathering habits to focus more on your chosen country, and less on sports and entertainment. Pick a time of the day and set an alarm on your phone to stop and pray.
4) Rejoice in the Lord always. Even after Lent.
In your daily practice, ask yourself, “How do I see God working today?” And then, rejoice in it! Thank God for His provision; tell a friend or family member how you saw God at work. That takes discipline, to find the silver lining. But when you look for God working, you’re training yourself to hear His voice. In time, the initial burden of taking up a new habit will seem light, because of the joy you will experience in seeing the world in a new way.
One way you can put these four steps into action is by sponsoring a child with Food for the Hungry. You will receive regular updates on your child and on conditions in the country affecting the child’s ability to grow and thrive. You can communicate directly with the child to find out more about their life. It’s a great way to take up a new habit with long-term eternal results.