I haven’t heard that question as much this year as in years past. The practice of giving something up, of fasting, is what most people associate with Lent. It’s a practice that I grapple with each year. Should I fast from something? What would it mean spiritually? Would I fast alone--since it’s not a communal practice in any of the churches I’ve attended?
I never want to fast for the sake of fasting. To do that would put fasting into the same category as New Year’s resolutions: easily made, easily broken. I don’t want a fast to become just a Lenten diet--abstaining from sweets and hoping to lose a pound or two. I don’t have a good background in the spiritual discipline of fasting, so I’m unsure of how to fast so that it helps me grow closer to God.
So I did a little research.
Fasting is grounded in the scriptures that are read during Lent. In liturgical churches, the verses read on the first Sunday of Lent are all from the story of Christ’s temptation. After his baptism, Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights. (Matt 4:2) Jesus experienced deprivation, hunger, and temptation. We identify with Christ’s suffering through fasting.
Food fasts are the most common type. My Catholic friends don’t eat meat on Fridays and some parishes hold a “fish fry” fellowship on Friday nights. Believers who fast from food--sweets, snacks, or entire meals--often donate the money they would have spent to charity.
A second type of fast is to abstain from something that is done purely for pleasure, such as watching TV or clothes shopping. Unlike food fasts there’s no physical reminder of the fast, which practitioners use to help them grow spiritually. Therefore the choice of fast needs to have meaning. Would I fast from TV to see if I could do it--to develop self-discipline? Or would I just record the shows on my DVR to watch after Easter? What’s tricky here is that Lent shouldn’t be something that causes Jesus to become the spoilsport or believers to grumble like a kid on 40-day restriction. The idea behind this type of fast is to eliminate some of the clutter from the schedule--to allow more space for the Sprit to move.
The most important component to fasting, and one that can be overlooked, is to find out what has power and authority in our lives, what causes us to sin. A mom and local blogger has declared a fast from yelling at her kids. Some bishops have advocated giving up texting, social networks, and online gaming--getting out of the virtual world and reconnecting with the self, with God, and with those physically present in our lives. The concept here is to identify, confess, and root out sin in our lives so that the Lenten fast will continue past Easter and become part of our Christ-filled lives.
So what am I giving up for Lent? I’m taking aim at one of my gluttonous habits. I’m a habitual evening snacker, eating for no reason other than the pleasure of eating. So I’m giving up my post-dinner handfuls of whatever I can root out of the pantry. When I get the urge to chew I’m reminded to be thankful for ways that God has blessed me and conscious of those who have little to eat. I read my Bible. I even write about fasting. And hopefully, I won’t give up giving up when Lent is over. The next step in this process is to decide how to turn my fast into a blessing for someone else, perhaps a donation to our local food pantry or Salvation Army.
So how about you? Are you ready to give up?