It's exactly one week until Lent officially starts, so it feels quite strange that I've already completed 40 days of my #100DaysOfVolunteering challenge.
This takes me 40% into my challenge and I am fervently passionate about completing it. I've come this far already, why stop now?
I've said '40 Days and 40 Nights' because that's essentially what it's been. I've largely been completing my volunteering tasks during the day because that's when my son is at school, and writing it up in the evening when he's in bed. This is with the odd exception of undertaking a Shout shift in the evening because that's when they get really busy. I've not really put too much pressure on myself because I don't want to let an obsession with volunteering get in the way of spending time with my family or doing other 'important' things (shopping, cleaning, eating). Sometimes I will only do one task, like phoning my Age UK telephone friend, whereas on others I might fit in lots of tasks (on Monday, I had four Zoom meetings which involved five charities and 19 people). My aim is to do something every day for a person or organisation that I'm doing because I want to do it - and not because I have to.
When it comes to Lent, I'm sure I'm not alone in the fact that I've previously been a non-religious participant in lent as an excuse to give up something that is having a negative impact on my life. When I did do Lent, I made an effort to ardently stick to whatever it was that I was giving up - but why though? I dunno... Lent? The point is, people shouldn't really need to use a Christian festival as an excuse to do something that they want to do anyway. I didn't start the #100DayChallenge for any reason other than I thought it would keep me busy and give me a focus in the first quarter of the year (which it really has). Lent comes quite soon after Dry January and Veganuary, so it feels like you've only had a short break before you're yet again depriving yourself of something. While I know that things like Lent, Dry January and Veganuary are in some way designed to help you appreciate what you have (or what you shouldn't really have), if you look at it through a different lens, there's already enough deprivation in the world - so why not give something back instead of giving it up?
My challenge to anyone who is contemplating doing something for Lent is: instead of giving something up for Lent, why don't you take on something new during Lent? Getting rid of a negative force in your life (a food type, smoking, social media) is a good thing, but I feel like it focuses on negative rhetoric. What might happen if you were to do something positive every day for 40 days and 40 nights instead? Lent is traditionally a time of reflection, so why not reflect on what you can do to help make the world around you a bit more pleasant to be in?
You don't even have to do something new every day, you can just commit to one thing and keep it going for 40 days. You never know, it might stick.
If you're stuck for ideas, here are a few to get you going:
Put something in the food bank basket when you go shopping (at Lidl, pasta costs 20p, Bran Flakes 49p, and a tin of soup 33p - if you can afford to do this, it can go so far for someone else)
Ask your neighbour if they need you to do their shopping. If you don't have elderly neighbours or they all get online deliveries, sign-up with your local Age UK branch
Become a telephone befriender. You probably don't want to be calling them up every day, because you'll run out of things to talk about and it would get weird
Clear-up your icy streets (we have a guy on a couple of doors down from us who clears up all the leaves on our street. His name is Steve)
Get out for a walk every day for 40 days. This is self-care - looking after yourself makes life better for the people around you because you tend to be nicer to be around
Call up a friend, and listen to them. Key word being 'listen'
Mow a neighbour's lawn (leave this until March though because it's not good to do in a frost)
Send your parents some pictures. If you have kids, send them a picture a day of them. If not, send them a daily selfie - if anything, it should put a smile on their face
What are you really good at? Teach someone else your skill
Plant some tomato plants from seed so you can give your neighbours a plant when they sprout at the end of April (I'm going to be doing this at the beginning of March)
Lent will end on 29th March, so I'll still have just over a week left on my 100 Day Challenge. Lent can sometimes be a bit like New Year's Resolutions where people can fall off the wagon and forget about whatever it was they were doing. Even if people try to do one positive thing for lent, they still will have done something.