Lent: Giving Up is Good for You
Giving Benefits Both Giver and Receiver, Explains World-Renowned Philanthropist
While most understand Lent to be a 40-day period leading up to Easter, during which spiritual participants give up something in their lives – anything from chocolate to alcohol to social media – it is also traditionally a time for almsgiving, or giving to the poor and needy.
“One of the most striking characteristics of the practice is that it’s a universally celebrated tradition; it’s an ecumenical principle that is interpreted in most world religions, and secular people often participate, too,” says Vassula Ryden, an internationally known speaker and author of the new book, “Heaven is Real But So is Hell,” www.TLIG.org.
Self-denial and charity are two sides of the same coin, says Ryden, a former model and tennis pro who gave up a privileged lifestyle as the wife of a diplomat to serve the world’s disadvantaged populations. She has founded more than two dozen charity houses in the poorest regions of the globe.
Ryden discusses the value of Lent and how the practice is a benefit to the world:
• A matter of balance: All resources on earth are finite, like a giant pizza with only so many slices. Residents of first-world countries maintain a lifestyle of heavy consumption, consuming a much larger share of the earth’s resources, including water, electricity, gas, and food. Living a more moderate lifestyle during Lent can help first-world consumers better understand how the rest of the world lives.
• The individual as a resource: A person who decides to give up drinking or some other indulgence throughout Lent’s six-week period, can experience exponential benefits. The devotee can save money, save time, and improve his/her health. That extra time and money can be invested in activities that enrich one’s life, or offered to a charity.
• Scientific evidence: In recent years, science has confirmed that humans are hard-wired for helping our fellow human being. Studies by neuroscientists with the National Institute of Health have found that the mere thought of giving money to charity ignites the part of the brain associated with pleasure. Additionally, researchers in the psychology department at Hebrew University in Jerusalem found evidence that people have a genetic predisposition for giving.
• Spiritual doctrines espouse selflessness: Every major religion teaches giving. In the Bible, in Corinthians 9:7, Paul exclaims: “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” Buddha said: “If you knew the power of generosity, you would not let a single meal go by without sharing it.” And, in the Qu’ran, “zakat” means the practice of giving alms and is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. While all of the above are according to one’s own spiritual tradition, devotees of traditions like Lent are ultimately following a basic human need.
“Most people know when they like something a little too much,” says Ryden. “Lent is the opportunity to address our vices and focus on what should matter most to us all – our own well-being and that of our fellow men and women.”