Posted: 05 March 2014

Lent: The poverty of choice

Today we're launching two new tools related to Lent. We've launched our new Benevolent app, which allows you to calculate how giving up chocolate, clothes or anything, really, can help our work supporting vulnerable young people.

We're also offering challenging resources to help you pray, reflect and discuss what poverty means for children and young people. For the first week of Lent, author Janet Morley reflects on the poverty of choice.

The poverty of choice

‘Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice…?’ 
-Isaiah 58.6

In many religions, the spiritual practice of fasting has had a significant place, but for many Christians, it only really survives in the widely recognised impulse to ‘give something up for Lent’. Perhaps for some of us, this is little more than a prompt to cut down on our alcohol or sugar intake, a good idea for purely health reasons. 

Yet Lent recalls the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert, reflecting on his ministry, choosing to put himself in a place of sacrifice.

The religious purpose of fasting can be to ask ourselves to stand in the shoes of those who do not have enough to eat. Or, as Isaiah 58:6-12 suggests, to humble ourselves by stripping off the signs of wealth and status as we stand before God. 

But there is another value to fasting, which is to sharpen our discernment, to achieve a better perspective on what God wants us to do. In this passage, Isaiah is highly critical of those who follow the outward form of fasting without adopting any changes of attitude or behaviour in the world.

The boundaries and stability that make the world feel safe

Of course, choosing to give something up is quite a different thing from suffering actual poverty which shows itself in severely limited choices and lack of opportunity. 

To be able to choose our lifestyle, whether that is luxurious or frugal, is to be miles away from having to choose between essentials of life, as some do - turn on the heating, or put food on the table? One key element of being poor is to experience poverty of choice.

For children and young people, this means that the way they are formed as people diminishes their ability to have choices or know how to make them well. They may never have experienced:

  • the kind of boundaries and stability that make the world feel safe
  • good nutrition which feeds body and brain properly
  • engaged adult attention and interesting resources that stimulate them to learn
  • affective, inspiring role models to help them choose how to be in the world.

This Lent, ask yourself how much of your own achievements, choices, relationships, health and current income would be yours, if you had never been surrounded by these things as a child.

Embracing your fast

When you feel that you are struggling with your fast, remember it is a choice, a privilege, and embrace it as such. 

Isaiah tells us not to 'hide yourself from your own kin'. Ignoring or blaming those who suffer poverty, by telling ourselves that they are ‘not like us’ is exactly what our culture insistently invites us to do. But this is not God’s perspective.


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By Janet Morley - Guest bloggers

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