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This Lent, instead of giving up things, give up your time to share with others

By Francene Young
Special to the American-Statesman
The Rev. Francene Young is the dean of administration at the the Episcopal Diocese of Texas Iona School for Ministry.

As a child, growing up in another denomination, the full meaning of Lent was not really explained. I was told I needed to “give up” something that I liked but not really knowing why. I guess because “we have always done it.”

Later in my late teens, I learned that giving up something during the 40 days of Lent was a sign of self-sacrifice. It took a little longer to fully understand why.

My young friends and I gave up one or two things like chocolate, ice cream, doughnuts, soda or potato chips. It was too punitive to give them all up.

As adults, to the above list, we added wine, beer, red meat, sugar, salt or smoking cigarettes — still looking for a deep reason why we do this. In "An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church," Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, Editors, I found the following:

"The season now known as Lent (from an Old English word meaning 'spring,' the time of lengthening days) has a long history. Originally, in places where Pascha was celebrated on a Sunday, the Paschal feast followed a fast of up to two days. In the third century this fast was lengthened to six days. Eventually this fast became attached to, or overlapped, another fast of forty days, in imitation of Christ's fasting in the wilderness. The forty-day fast was especially important for converts to the faith who were preparing for baptism, and for those guilty of notorious sins who were being restored to the Christian assembly. In the western church the forty days of Lent extend from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, omitting Sundays. All Christians are invited 'to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word.'"

The words that struck me were “All are invited in self-examination.” For many of us, Lent has become a short time of denying ourselves some goodies; something to eat or drink. I wondered if through self-examination we might discover something we should be doing; something that we should take up while we give up. What is needed in my community that we might lean into instead of ignoring.

One evening while watching “Finding Your Roots” on PBS, it dawned on me that during this pandemic (and actually before) so many of our senior citizens who live alone experienced increased isolation. It reminded me of the widows and widowers who used to make their way to my church for a little fellowship and those we used to visit before the pandemic.

The elders of our community are filled with wisdom and stories that help fill in the gaps of history. Yet, many are left alone. So, this Lent, I invite you to join me in giving up a little time to call or safely visit two to three seniors who live alone. Take them the chocolate or ice cream that you planned to give up or do a “drive by” and leave a little note of prayer and encouragement. Just let them know they are loved even when alone.

My guess is that your sacrifice of time will feel more like a gift when you know you have helped someone smile and feel loved. This Lent, give up a little time to take a little joy to our senior citizens who live alone.

The Rev. Francene Young is the dean of administration at the the Episcopal Diocese of Texas Iona School for Ministry. Doing Good Together is compiled by Interfaith Action of Central Texas, interfaithtexas.org.