shrive (ʃrʌɪv) verb, archaic — present oneself to a priest for confession, penance, and absolution.
Every year for the last six years I’ve made a mental note to spend Lent doing one generous challenge thing every day. And every year, without fail, I fall miserably short of that.
“No biggy,” you’re probably thinking.
Sure. But here’s the kicker.
Every year for the last six year’s I’ve also been part of the team behind 40acts, a social media project that challenges followers – or 40activists as they’ve become known – to do one generous thing each day.
The community that takes part in 40acts grows year on year – I’m writing this just as we’ve broken the 90,000 sign-up milestone – and there’s not a day that goes by every Lent when we’re not blown away by the flood of stories that get sent in or shared across social media – using the hashtag #40acts. Together we’ve shared smiles, fed the hungry, healed the sick, saved lives, cleaned up our streets.
Except I haven’t. Not for the full 40 days, at least.
Sure, I’ve started strong each year, but by week two I’m already flagging. By week three and four I’m picking the easiest route to completing the simplest challenge. Weeks five and six? Don’t. Just, don’t.
And, regular as clockwork, the excuses – all those reasons I can’t complete each act – become my Lenten experience. And after six years I’ve amassed quite the back catalogue of reasons for not completing a generous act each day.
“I’m too busy — this report won’t write itself.”
“I’m an introvert — I can’t just go up to a stranger with a cupcake.”
“Someone stole my idea — I need to do something original or it won’t count.”
“I had to clean the house — that’s a pretty generous thing already, right?”
“Money’s tight — I’ll catch up when I get paid”
Not this year.
Many of you probably scoffed a few pancakes last Tuesday. Shrove Tuesday, which, for etymologists reading, gets its name from the old English word ‘shriven’, a verb meaning to confess to a priest. Traditionally this was the day that Christians in the early Church would begin the process of absolution before fasting strictly for the next 40 days in the lead up to Easter celebrations.
So this is my confession.
For the last six years I’ve taken the easy option, the wide path, and found a multitude of ways to excuse not doing my quota of generous acts during Lent.
And its time for the excuses to stop.
Being intentionally generous – actually planning for it, not just reacting spontaneously – is hard. When Jesus said: “Love your neighbour as yourself,” He didn’t apply any limits or boundaries to that love – or who we should consider our neighbour.
Generosity is supposed to stretch us in ways we can’t imagine, taking us to places we’d usually be too scared to reach, and connecting us to neighbours a million miles from our own front door.
I know that because my own experience of giving has taken me into some crazy, but richly rewarding situations with some equally as crazy people. It’s an experience I love having but, I realise, often on my terms and when I’m in the mood.
The daily habit, the intentionality, the seeking out of an opportunity to be generous, is my downfall. Yet, I don’t recall Jesus saying: “Love your neighbour when you feel like it.”
There should be no boundaries to my generosity, which is why this year is going to be different.
And, to make sure the excuses stop, I’ve added an extra personal challenge into the mix to publicly document my 40acts experience. A way to hold myself accountable to others to make sure I don’t let life crowd out the generosity, starting with this confession – I’m hoping at least one person reading will be a minister of religion — a legit one, not one of those DIY internet ones — to make this confession official and binding, or whatever it should be.
If you’d like to join me for a generous Lent, there’s still time to sign up at www.40acts.org.uk.
And you go ahead and do as many or as few of the challenges as you like — I’m in no position to judge.