Do you celebrate Lent? Lent is typically thought of as a season celebrated by the Catholic church and some high-church denominations, but it’s something that I’ve really been blessed by.

In case you didn’t grow up in the church or have no idea what I’m talking about, Lent is 40 days (which doesn’t count the Sundays) of fasting in preparation for Easter. Different people do it different ways: some give up something like chocolate until Easter, some engage in acts of service, and some fast from things like gossiping or complaining. Traditionally, you abstain from eating meat on Fridays in remembrance of the crucifixion (hence Friday fish fries) and don’t say “alleluia” in church in recognition of the solemnity of the season.

The season is 40 days long to echo Jesus’ temptation in the desert. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which is February 10th this year. Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is the day before, traditionally the day when people would make pancakes to use up the rest of their cooking fat before the fast. Of course, it’s also known as a day of going crazy for the same reason.

If you’re at all interested in observing Lent, maybe for the first time, there are a lot of ways to go about it. Considering you’re reading this particular blog, I’d guess you’ll want to tie it to your own ordinary activism. How is fasting tied to activism? Well, let’s see what the prophet Isaiah said about fasting:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?”
Isaiah 58:6

That sounds like activism to me. The point here isn’t that fasting from food and/or making other sacrifices can’t be a good practice–rather, in context, the people were wondering God wasn’t honoring their fast, and it was because they weren’t taking care of the neglected among them!

Cool. So, fast by setting people free from injustice and oppression. How exactly do we do that?

One of my favorite Lent traditions is something that Blood:Water Mission does every year, their Save a Drink, Save a Life campaign. This encourages people to give up other beverages for water in order to save money to donate for water projects. What I love about this is it combines a personal fast with caring for those who need it. I would definitely categorize preventable disease by contaminated water as oppression, wouldn’t you?

To participate, you set up an individual fundraising page, join a team (if you want to), and get going! There’s even an app to help you track how many drinks you’re giving up! (Or, shameless plug, here’s my fundraising page.) Here are some other ideas that combine personal fasting with ordinary activism:

  1. Sacrifice a time-waster like Tumblr or Twitter bingeing to make time in your week to volunteer throughout the course of Lent. See here for tips on finding somewhere to help.
  2. Give up your vacation money to go on a service trip instead. The photo attached to this post is one I took of the Little Painted Desert in Arizona (truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been) on my Spring Break service trip to the NAOMI House (also one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been). They’re a great ministry to work with to serve orphans, or find another service trip that needs you.
  3. Do a fast on buying new clothes to combat sweat shops and learn about ethically sourced clothes.
  4. Do a Whole30 and, while you’re learning how to better take care of your body, commit your time to feed others at a soup kitchen every week.
  5. Give up reading the refugee news while feeling helpless, and instead volunteer locally with refugees.
  6. Ditch your unused gift cards and send them to Gift Card Giver. If you’re feeling really ambitious, hold a gift card party so your friends can donate their unused gift cards, too!
  7. Read More or Less, one of my favorite books, and come up with your own “enough experiment,” deciding what you can stand giving up to help others live better.

Fasting is meant to be solemn, but not destructive. Giving things up makes space for God and for serving others. What will you give up this Lent? More importantly, how will you serve?