For Lent, I used to give up something that would eventually make me feel better about me - maybe chocolate, or drinking, or something else with health-and-thin-inducing benefits.
Then Tearfund started 'the carbon fast' and I began giving up something a bit more worthwhile, something that might benefit others or the environment - my car for a week to save the fuel and pollution, perhaps, or my favourite fruit that was so far out of season that it took several aeroplanes to bring it to my local supermarket. (The carbon fast is brilliant, and whilst it's not their current Lent-push, the Tearfund resources are still available if you fancied an eco-flavoured Lent this or next year - you can find them here.)
This year, I'm not giving up anything though. I'm taking up something: a generous spirit. I came across the 40 Acts challenge via an old uni friend's Facebook page - and I'm so glad she posted about it. Every day, an email with a short thought and a challenge comes my way. Whether it's to be more generous with my time for others, to the environment, with my material possessions, or my thoughts and cares that day, it's really helping me to think about being a more generous person in every way.
Yesterday, I was challenged to be more generous with my thanks, and I realised how a simple thank you can be a huge encouragement when you feel overlooked or ground down. Today, I'm being encouraged to hold onto my things more lightly, perhaps to strip away belongings that I just don't need and give them to others, or to give away something I really love to someone who will value it as much or more.
I wonder what it would be like in my local area if all of us were trying to be actively generous to each other? The recycling box that has blown down the street might find it's way home, the park might be litter-free, there might be relationships growing in more places down the street, less dog mess around, more meals or flowers dropped off at doors with a smile. The local tip would have less sofas chucked in it, and the housing estate across the way would look as homely inside as our road does.
If I was more generous with my time and my care for those around me, I might have known that my neighbour had been in hospital for two weeks and made an effort when she got home to offer to help with cleaning, shopping, or just some company.
I'm not an ungenerous person. But I have realised that I am generous to the people I love. I give my time to the causes I care about most, or offer help where I want to give it. I am generous where being generous is easy. And this challenge, for me, is about changing my mindset around generosity - we are told to love our neighbour as ourselves, and that everyone is our neighbour. That means it's time for me to be generous where it's inconvenient, or to give my time to someone that I'd perhaps rather avoid.
So this Lent, I'm asking God to prompt me each day to be generous in the way that He is, to give my time, efforts, love and kindness to the people, things and situations that are on His heart, regardless of whether I like them or not. And it's really hard.
It's so much harder than giving up chocolate that I can't help but think that this is the way that God has always wanted me to observe Lent.
If you're interested, it's not too late to sign up to 40 acts - go to www.40acts.co.uk :)