Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of lent. As we prepare to celebrate the resurrection on Easter Sunday, we enter this season of reflection asking for the forgiveness of God as well as those around us. It is a time of penance and fasting. We as Catholics traditionally make personal sacrifices during the Lenten season to remind us of the great sacrifice Jesus made for us, but this year I am posing a challenge to myself and others: sacrifice not of yourself, but alleviate the sacrifice, pain and suffering of those less fortunate and the oft-forgotten souls with whom we share this earth.
Jesus by his own example showed us that there are people among us who live a daily struggle that doesn't begin and end with Lent. You might see them sleeping on the street, or asking for change at a traffic light. Or perhaps there is someone who is crying and needs comfort. Our sacrifice will be not to restrict our lives, but rather to uplift the lives and unshackle the burdens of others, and to do it every day.
So for Lent I choose to give up my selfishness and give of myself to others. I pledge every day to consider how my actions can benefit those around me with my positive words, my positive actions, and my healing touch. It would be easy to say that I will forego alcohol or tobacco. It would be even easier to give up sweets or sugary drinks. I've done this many times before and achieved the same result: a return to bad habits immediately after Easter.
My personal challenge will be to continue this cause well beyond Lent, and I hope more will do the same. It is only when we can change ourselves that we can then change the world.
The Challenge Make a point on each day of the Lenten season to reach out to someone with a kind word, a kind gesture or a generous gift. Greet every morning with a smile and greet bedtime with a thankful prayer that you had the privilege of another day to serve your fellow man. And then take this challenge to others and continue the good work beyond Easter. The happiness and comfort you give will be returned ten fold in this life and one hundred fold in the next.
- Ideas for living this challenge:
- Give money or food to the homeless. (and give ten times what you might ordinarily give)
- Talk to a stranger sitting next to you on the bus or train and wish them well on their day.
- Compliment a woman on her attire, and pick out something specific that you really like.
- Smile and greet someone passing you on the sidewalk.
- Volunteer at an HIV/AIDS clinic.
- Pick up litter and trash on your street.
- If you see someone in distress (mental or physical) offer help.
- Look up resumes on Craigslist and see if you know anyone who might be looking for that position.
- Hug more.
- Be patient.
- Tip your server 50% or more.
- Hand out $25 McDonald's gift cards to the homeless. (I always carry a few with me. Giving someone a gift card allows them not only the ability to purchase food, but they get to feel a sense of ownership and a sense of connectivity to modern society. You're not just giving them food, you're giving them the opportunity to feed themselves.)
- Don't just say thank you, send a hand-written card or even flowers.
- Thank God every evening for the opportunity to have another day to make the world a better place.
- Cook a meal for the neighbors you don't know.
- Train to be a crisis counselor.
There are so many ways to help others. The sacrifice you make to break out of our comfort zone can and will have a positive effect on the world around you. And who knows, you just might change history.
The featured image is from my post-Katrina New Orleans photographic expedition. You can see the full image and others here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/justinschuck/sets/72157617651541690/with/3497507669/