(First published in the SAIL newsletter February 5, 2016)
I have been thinking about the approach of Lent for some time now. Traditionally, one of the things Christians do between Ash Wednesday and Easter is practice some kind of fasting to help us grow closer to God. If we frequently indulge in something we don’t need, for instance chocolate, then denying chocolate helps us to purify our bodies and discipline our habits. Every time we yearn for chocolate, we remember why we have made the choice to fast, and have an opportunity to pray to God for strength, to give thanks for all our blessings, and to fill that space in our stomach that we used to fill with chocolate, with something better for our bodies and spirits. Chocolate is just one example though. Some people might try to discipline themselves to give up worrying. Worrying takes up space in our time and our spirits. When we catch ourselves worrying, we can stop and pray for strength, then turn our worries over to God. When we choose to trust God rather than dwell on things beyond our control, a space opens up within our outlook on life that we can fill with something better for our bodies and spirits–hope. If you find yourself amazed at how much time you have spent playing a game or binge watching TV without realizing it, then that might be your fasting opportunity. If you were to stop doing that activity, just during Lent, maybe just during certain hours, say from 8-10 p.m., what activity could fit into that time that would be better for your body and spirit?
Fasting isn’t comfortable, and it shouldn’t be easy. If you give up something you don’t like, that isn’t a sacrifice! Will you feel a little resentful toward God if you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms from Clash of Clans? Maybe for a short time. Remind yourself you are doing it by choice because the results are important to YOU. Tell yourself to toughen up and dig in deeper because it is worth it. And this isn’t a Pass or Fail test. If you forget and eat chocolate, or worry, or realize your allotted TV time ran over into your sacred time, you don’t have to call it a lost cause and give up. Recommit, and find ways to support your fasting. Remember to fill that space you are making in your stomach, outlook, or schedule with something that makes you feel uplifted and closer to God. Give thanks for the struggle, and give thanks for the progress that comes as a result.
Fasting with someone else helps you stay accountable and feel supported when you’d rather quit. I, personally, have decided that I need to attend to a writing project I am nervous about, but that I feel God has given me to do. I can make an hour a day for this project just by waking up earlier, or giving up some evening downtime. I like both sleeping and downtime but I don’t need all that I have been taking. I will spend some time leading up to Ash Wednesday to make sure I am ready to roll by setting an alarm on my phone, getting my home workspace set up and making sure my husband knows I have dedicated a chunk of my time that I will not be using on Facebook or watching TV or videos or making snacks. So now you know what I am planning. If you like, tell me what you are planning to give up, and let me be part of your Lenten journey. You can also make service part of your Lenten experience; ask me and I’ll help you find an opportunity that matches your interests and skills!
For more info on the traditions and practices of Lent, check out this Upper Room web page: http://www.upperroom.org/lent101
Peace to you, in the coming season of Lent, and always!