Fasting During Lent
We are in the second week of Lent, the six-week long season that leads us to Easter.
It is the annual reenactment of Jesus’ 40 day journey in to the wilderness. It is a time of introspection and preparation. A time for repentance and reflection. And it is, ultimately, a journey that leads us towards Holy Week, preparing us for the death and resurrection of our Lord.
Traditionally the church has engaged in three spiritual practices to help guide the individual (and the larger community) through the 40 day experience. Daily prayer (as a way to seek Justice with God), fasting (as a way to seek Justice with our Selves), and almsgiving (as a way to seek Justice with our Neighbor).
Fasting, or “giving something up,” is the most common and well known exercise during Lent. Last week, as I was gearing up for my own 40 day journey, I was reflecting on fasting and why it is we bother with such a potentially stale rituals.
I came to see how, at the root, fasting is in many ways about control.
Over time we develop little habits and attachments to things or to activities, that, before long, exercise a degree of control over us.
We may not think they do, however, and that’s where it gets tricky. We may, in fact, convince ourselves (successfully, too, most likely) that those things don’t own us, or control us, and we could stop whenever we wanted, or abstain at any time.
But in many cases we don’t, do we?
And so fasting becomes this intentional time to choose something where maybe we’ve had this thought before, “I probably shouldn’t do this right now… and I know I don’t have to… eh, who cares, I’m going to anyways.” Or maybe we go in to a certain situation and our plan is totally to not do a particular activity, our intentions are determined, and then… well… once the day wears on we sort of just find ourselves doing it anyways.
That thing, whatever it is, might have more control over us than we realize.
So sometimes fasting is literally and actually about the abstaining from that particular thing. Because it has managed to weasel its way in to our lives and has just a smidgen of power over us. And anytime something or someone has any degree of power over us we are, in that moment, not living in to the freedom that is ours in Christ Jesus.
But other times fasting can be more like a practice that represents something else.
For instance, if you fast from eating meat, it may not be meat specifically that exercises control over you. But each time you mindfully choose not to eat meat you are consciously made aware of your capacity live in to freedom.
Fasting, then, can become the key to unlock us from the ways in which desires keep us chained.
All Sons and Daughters plays this beautiful song called “I Am Set Free,” and in it they remind us that “it is for freedom that I am set free”
In Christ we are free. As in, totally and truly free. And the purpose of being set free is, well, for the sake of freedom!
But in our brokenness we often live chained to things, to actions, to people, to behaviors, to desires.
Our true selves are suffocating in the dark caves where we’ve buried them underneath all these desires, devices, and distractions.
Fasting, then, becomes a way to regain our freedom. To be reminded that we are not slaves to anything or anyone.
Decide to Practice
So what might that be for you? Is there something in particular that came up for you while reading this post?
My invitation is that you would consider the practice of fasting from that thing for the season of Lent. It’s only 46 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter, and according to some traditions the Sundays are seen as mini-Easters, and you break your fast.
Meaning, it’s totally doable.
And if the end result is that you discover just a little more clearing through the brush on the path that leads to freedom, then I’d say that’s absolutely worth it.