A year ago, a post came up on my social media feed, "Give Up Garbage for Lent". Intrigued I clicked on it, and we decided as a family to give the challenge a go. Inviting other families to join us was the start of 'Mustard Seeds', a small group of home educating Christian families learning about the environment and taking small steps to change our habits and lifestyles to protect our planet. The journey for me has been a revelation. Beyond what happens to our rubbish, we have learned more about Climate Change and its worsening and devastating effects. We have learned about plastics, and been challenged by the stories of those who have tried to quit their dependence upon this most popular planet polluter. What is abundantly clear is that unless we, the ordinary people of the world, wake up to what our lifestyles are doing to our planet - and change our ways - we are going to destroy all that is precious, the very earth upon which we all depend. Fortunately, in spite of all the evidence which may discourage us, I believe this is possible. We can change, one step at a time. And Lent is actually an excellent time to set ourselves a challenge. So, I am asking you to join me ....
Lent is not actually about giving something up, though the discipline of fasting is that most notably associated with this season of the Christian year. Pope Francis quotes the early Christian mystic John Chrysostom who said: “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.” Francis' words challenge us to go beyond the mere discipline of self-denial, to something far deeper and more profound, that is to change our hearts, to realise the need to love again. He calls us to fast from our indifference. "Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. We end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.”
For me, this past year, it has been the effects of our throwaway, convenient lifestyle on our precious planet, and on those that are vulnerable, often the poor, that has most challenged me to change. Pope Francis is right. We can be so self-absorbed that we do not see, we refuse to hear, we become numb to the warning signs until we are numb to the need. We do not even believe that Climate Change is happening at all. And, if it is, well the responsibility to do anything about it is other people's, not my own.
"What are you giving up for Lent?" we might ask ourselves and others. Maybe an abstention from alcohol or chocolate will be good for our figures, a temporary break from social media might give us a few weeks of quality time with our families, but can we challenge ourselves to change our hearts, to lift our eyes and see beyond ourselves, our comforts, our convenience? In our family, we have decided to try and reduce our consumption of single-use plastics. You might say it is too small a step, or that it isn't really what Lent is about at all. But I know that just 40 days is actually long enough to change our habits. And I know, too, that each of us making changes, like individual droplets of water, small and insignificant as our efforts might seem, can join together to form a mighty stream, a force to be reckoned with.
Maybe you are where I was a year ago, in which case, "Give Up Garbage" or "The Rubbish Diet" might be good starting points. Maybe you are further along the path, in which case, you might find some ideas and inspiration here.