With Sundays in Lent reserved as feast days or holy-days (or holidays), we’re now 10 days in to this season of getting ready for Easter. I wonder how Lent is going if you’re observing it in some significant way this year?
As I’ve now mentioned once or twice on this blog, as well as taking on some seasonal reading for Lent, I also signed up to join the 40 acts challenge as an opportunity to ‘Do Lent Generously’ by giving out rather than giving up. It’s my third year following the challenge and fantastic to see it growing in popularity – nearly 75,000 challengers signed up this year – that’s a lot of generous acts going on if everyone is keeping up with the daily challenges.
The good people over at Stewardship, whose baby this great seasonal challenge is, have tweaked it a bit this year. So participants now have three different ways to join in each day (as well as options for doing 40 acts with children, as a group, or as a bunch of students). The idea is that, if you’ve only got a few minutes, or very limited resources, you can opt for the green challenge. With a bit more time, money or whatever, you might feel able to step up to the orange (or amber) challenge. And then there’s the red challenge for those who can commit to a more significant or longer term generosity project. And it’s easy to vary the level of challenge each day which is great for those whose work and other commitments make each day different.
So far, we’ve completed the following challenges:
Day 1: Starting line – different ways of preparing for the generosity challenges ahead: taking time to pray, to start a journal and list the names of those you’d like to bless with generosity this Lent, or creating a generosity kit of useful and/or lovely goodies for blessing people in the days and weeks ahead.
Day 2: Chinwag – a chance to get to know the neighbours with a wave, a smile or a cheery hello, or to get to know them better with a longer conversation. Or even organising a social get together so everyone can take their friendship to the next level.
Day 3: Clean – pick up some litter, or clear a bigger patch of public space nearby – perhaps even organise a big community clean-up.
Day 4: Devise a surprise – spring an unexpected treat on a family member, friend, colleague, or even a complete stranger – it could be anything from an unexpected compliment or bunch of flowers to a meal or a more extravagant treat.
Day 5: Fair and square – at the start of the UK’s Fairtrade Fortnight, the challenge was to tell someone about Fairtrade or buy some Fairtrade product – perhaps tea, coffee or chocolate – or even to think about a much bigger target – a Fairtrade wardrobe.
Day 6: Thank you – options included sending a quick ‘Thank you’ tweet or text message, writing a thank you note to someone or, to really big up the thanking, a daily thank you note for the whole of Lent.
Day 7: Hold it lightly – pray about the stuff in your life and give God space to challenge any bad attitudes, or give something away – perhaps even a favourite item, or else take the opportunity for a big declutter and take it all to charity.
Day 8: Tick tock – be punctual for your next meeting(s), or even try to arrive early – perhaps even with enough time to bring the person you’re meeting an unexpected treat.
Day 9: Mix it up – Think about the cultural or ethnic mix where you live or work and have a go at learning a quick greeting in one of those languages, or seek to build a better relationship with someone from a very different cultural background, or organise a community cultural celebration to share food and friendship.
Day 10: Fix up look sharp – do a quick fix job for someone today, or help out with some bigger jobs people need doing, or perhaps use DIY or other skills (baking, sewing, card-craft etc) to make an amazing gift for someone.
As you can see, challengers get to think creatively – in both big and small ways – to see how to complete the daily challenges. What’s also clear, when the first 10 days are listed out in this way, is that some challenges grab the imagination more than others. And that’s probably different for each person. I was horrified when I saw the day 10 challenge, complete with its image of hammer and other tools. “Oh, no”, I shrieked, dreading the idea that I’d have to do some DIY project. But then it’s given me an idea for a gift to make for someone using my sewing skills – much more me than a hammer and nails! But then day 9 had been right up my street, living as I do in one of the most diverse neighbourhoods in our city and having had loads of opportunities over the years to learn other languages and mix with other cultures, so that challenge was just right for me.
Some of the challenges I’ve completed just quietly among friends and family or through ministry opportunities at church. Several of them are still to be completed because I felt prompted to tackle the bigger ‘red’ generosity challenge on those days – and they need more time to plan and carry out.
It’s an interesting challenge to take part in – several others in the parishes are joining in too. And we’ve commented that sometimes the challenge for the day can seem so obvious, the kind of thing all of us would hope to be doing regularly as loving, caring human beings. But I wonder if the reality is that we so often overlook easy opportunities for blessing other people generously. Even the daily green acts leave people feeling encouraged and touched by the care and concern of others, but we often don’t make the time and space to do them in the normal run of daily life.
And that’s one of the great things about 40 acts – it gives us all a brief season in the year when we can be really intentional about things we want to be doing anyway. And perhaps that helps us to actually get on and live life more generously each and every day. I just love the vision of people blessing and being blessed in big and small ways – the world can’t possibly have too much generosity in this day and age.
If you’re not signed up and I’ve whet your appetite to find out more or join in for yourself, click across to the 40 acts website right now. You could play catch up or just join in with the next 30 days because there are still plenty more challenges ahead. What do you think? Are you up for the challenge? Or already involved? Let’s get generous!