Reflections on Fasting
Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something more than interesting or entertaining or thoughtful. Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something awesome, something real. Speak to my condition, Lord and change me somewhere inside where it matters. Let something happen which is my real self, Oh God.
—Ted Loder, Guerrillas for Grace
I don’t feel ready for Lent. I haven’t even finished packing up the last of the Christmas decorations. But ready or not, today is Ash Wednesday – and I don’t want to miss anything! Lent offers the possibility for real transformation that only results from repentance and getting right with God.
The season of Lent encompasses the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. As we anticipate spring and the lengthening of the days, Lent is a spiritual journey leading us from darkness back into light, back into right relationship with God.
Fasting is the traditional spiritual discipline practiced during Lent, but it is definitely out-of-style in our modern church. Why this total disregard of a spiritual discipline practiced by so many people in scripture? (Moses, David, Samuel, Nehemiah, Elijah, Esther, Daniel, Anna, Paul, Jesus and the disciples, to name a few.) All major religions practice the discipline of fasting and it was considered essential to the Christian faith until the last century. Now we live in a culture that claims we can have (and deserve) it all! Thankfully, in our culture of abundance and excess, we are slowly recovering the practice of fasting.
WHY DO WE FAST?
Richard Foster wrote that “our human cravings and desires are like a river that tends to overflow its banks; fasting helps keep them in their proper channel.”
Fasting helps us to remember our dependence on God. A life that knows no limits cannot recognize the need for God. Fasting teaches us to accept life-restoring limits.
Saint Augustine said that God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them—and not only our hands, but also our hearts, minds, and attention are clogged with addiction. Lent is a season for us to “unclog,” to free up the spaces where life-giving grace might flow.
HOW DO WE FAST?
Lent is a time for renewal, for returning to God as the center and source of all life. It involves an interior “spring cleaning” to identify addictions, sin, distractions, and bad habits that separate us from God. When what we consume is consuming us, when what we possess is possessing us, the only way back to health and balance is to refrain from using those things that have control over us.
Giving up certain foods for Lent is traditional, but God may show you other good things that have subtly taken control in your life and created bondage instead of freedom.
- Media – Do you compulsively check your phone, Facebook, or emails? Do you plan your week around a TV show or sporting event? Consider turning off your devices for a day or a week or just for a set-aside time each each evening or morning.
- Pride – Consider giving, serving, or praying in secret. Practice anonymity.
- Shopping – On a retreat, someone announced that she would give up catalogues. She confessed to compulsively reading them, purchasing things she didn’t need, spending money she didn’t have, and creating tension in her marriage. Six weeks of no catalogues created time and money and peace that she hadn’t even realized she was missing!
- Busy-ness – Maybe we need to let go (overpacked schedules) to take on a new discipline (Sabbath). After practicing Sabbath for six Sundays during a Lenten season, I discovered a new way to live and have continued to keep Sabbath ever since.
- Relationships – Do you give someone the power to redeem or destroy you, perhaps seeking approval from your parent/boss/child?
How can you tell what God is inviting you to give up or take on during Lent? Try asking yourself, “What creates anxiety when I consider giving it up or taking it on?” The path that causes that anxiety might be exactly the one God is calling you on.
“We trivialize spiritual disciplines when we lose sight of their real purpose. Lent is not a six-week inconvenience in an otherwise abundant year, during which we somehow please God with voluntary, if minor, suffering. Lent is not a testing ground for the true grit of our will power. It is certainly not a “spiritual” rationale for losing ten pounds before venturing to the beach in a bathing suit.
Do you see how easy it is to twist a practice like fasting into a means to accomplish our own ends? The question we need to ask with any spiritual discipline is, What does GOD want to accomplish in me through this practice?”
—Marjorie Thompson, Soul Feast
When we repeat the Paschal mystery every week, “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again,” I want that to happen in MY life. I want the old things to pass away and make space for the new things of God.
Ready or not, I want to prepare myself to meet God somewhere deep inside where it matters. I used to give up chocolate for Lent, because I enjoy chocolate and I saw God as a big party-pooper in the sky who wanted to see me suffer. But nothing could be further from the truth. God is inviting me into newness of life. I realize now that true Lenten discipline must touch the places in my life that long for deeper transformation. Oh God, let something essential happen to me.
It is said that the delight of a feast is directly proportional to the deprivation of the fast that comes before. Remember your family’s Thanksgiving meal when you had to wait in anticipation all day, smelling the delicious aromas coming from the kitchen, growing hungrier by the hour…and how delicious it was when the family finally gathered around the table!
Don’t just show up Easter morning.
Take time now to listen. How is God inviting you to spend the next 40 days?