“What should I do for Lent?” For 25 of my 37 years, I never asked this question.
Until age 22, I said there was no God. But conversations with friends opened me to the possibility of faith. I still wondered and questioned for the next two and a half years. Finally, on a wintery run, I recognized the risen Christ.
Then I asked what I should do for Lent — the 40 days of penance leading to Easter — and I saw the real value of the answer.
Prayer. Fasting. Almsgiving. Throughout salvation history, the faithful, like Moses, David, and Elijah, have often observed these spiritual disciplines. Jesus instructed his disciples on all three (Matthew 6) and himself prayed (Mark 6:46, John 17) and fasted (Matthew 4:2). The Catholic and Orthodox churches are those most widely known for stressing this three-part answer to the annual Lenten question. However, Christians of many other communities have also practiced versions of them, sometimes by other names.
March 15 will be the third anniversary of the start of the Syrian conflict and 10 days after Lent begins. What should I do for Lent? What should I do for the people of Syria?
Perhaps these two questions can have one answer: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Even if these are not part of your tradition or practice, consider offering up these three tangible sacrifices to the Lord and for the people of Syria.
We can become numb to what has happened to Syrians, because the violence is so brutal and the scale of suffering for millions of people is so monstrous that it all seems beyond imagination.
But the concreteness of Lent can help rescue us from numbness. The ashes applied to foreheads on Ash Wednesday are visible, and the words that accompany them — “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” — are audible. Both are tangible reminders of our sin, mortality, and need for Christ.
Most Syrian Christians are Catholic or Orthodox. So they will be praying, fasting, and giving alms from what little they may have for Lent.
How can your prayer, fasting, and giving alms honor Christ and remember the suffering of the Syrian people?
It is powerful and the easiest to do. Remember to include Syrians in your daily prayers. Set up reminders for yourself on calendars, notes, and smartphones.
Sacrificing some kind of food is ideal. It continues what the holy men and women who came before us have done. It also helps us to enter, in a small way, the sufferings of Syrians who are hungry. Perhaps eat less, or pick something to skip at every meal — whether it be your first-choice food, an extra serving, or a beverage. Whatever it is, it should be a sacrifice known only to you and the Lord. Perhaps there is a particular food or drink that you like and yet will forgo over the Lenten period.
If fasting from food is problematic, there are many other things from which you could choose to fast — TV, email, web browsing, multitasking, or particular kinds of shopping. There are so many things you do regularly and could sacrifice.
World Vision is reaching vulnerable children and their families inside Syria, as well as refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. To help ensure we are still able to do so, consider supporting this important work with a donation.
You can also give your voice. So far, when it comes to the daily sufferings of Syrian citizens, most Americans have remained silent. Leaders in our government are therefore under the impression that the people of Syria do not matter to most Americans. Signing this petition is an opportunity to show that you care and want the children of Syria to be spared becoming a lost generation.
It is easy to feel that you care. But caring that actually makes a difference requires some sacrifice. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving require sacrifice. They can be inconvenient, contrary to what we want, burdensome, or painful.
However, as Jesus reminds us, “With men, this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Christ is the one who “make[s] all things new” (Revelation 21:5), including in the daily encounter and personal relationship with Him. He said to his disciples then and to us now, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
This Lent, as you reflect on the beauty of Christ’s sacrifice for us, please consider laying down your life for Syrian children and their families with your prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.