Four years ago I gave up all foods except fruit and vegetables for lent. (And in case any one is wondering, coffee is made from beans and beans can count as vegetables – I just googled it.) Though it was a valuable experience, I since then haven’t given up anything for lent. Maybe because that moment at the Cougar Den (my college’s convenience store) when I stood in line with a naked juice in hand and cried as the person in front of me was handed a large pizza fresh out of the oven scarred me deeply enough, or maybe because I’ve not been led by the Holy Spirit to observe the lent season by fasting in the past few years. Regardless, as Ash Wednesday of this year approached I began to contemplate whether or not I would be fasting. And despite that traumatic moment of smelling a pizza pulled out of the oven as I bought mashed up fruit in a bottle, I have decided that I will fast again this year. Not to the extreme of the fruits and vegetables only, but I do intend to eliminate most sugar and processed foods and ‘junk food’ from my diet. And for me that is a large sacrifice as it means no ice cream, reese’s, or mac n’ cheese. My apprehension for fasting had several reasons behind it. The first reason is that I am all for whole-lives in which we seek balance. And completely giving up something (like deserts, or social media) seems to go against this pursuit. Secondly, I think fasts are quickly turned into diets. “Did you lose any weight?” I got asked often when doing the fruit and veggie fast several years ago. When I responded with a no the responses were remorseful – as if I was doing the fast to shed extra pounds. Thirdly, 40+ days is a long time, and generally lands over spring break, and it is a bummer to have to say no to say no to Yogurt Land trips or fancy coffee drinks when you’re on vacation. But as I’ve thought and prayed this Lent I have come up with three reasons why I am choosing to fast this season: 1. I need as many reminders of God as possible as I go throughout the day. I love my morning time with the Lord. It is consistent, convicting, and life-giving. And then I get an hour into the tasks of the day and I’ve already lost sight of what it was he was speaking to me. Food continues with me throughout the day, however. A cup of coffee, mid-morning snack, a few chocolates here, and we’re only at lunch. If I use my moments in which I am either preparing food, thinking about food, or eating food to be reminded of what I gave up, and thus who I gave it up for, I believe my day will be much more filled with God-reminders. 2. I want to cherish the Lent and Easter season. Lent lasts a long time (six weeks), but there’s not the decorations and music like the advent season has. Ash Wednesday happens and before I know it Easter is here and I haven’t taken time to even notice it, let alone prepare my heart for it. I want this season to be a time that I cherish as I orient myself towards the cross and my Savior. And when you are “suffering” (I use that term broadly) things tend to last longer. The season is short. Going without the foods I like best will make it seem longer, and multiply my time of preparation. 3. It is ok to have multiple motivations. A healthy, active body is one of continual life goals. I believe my body is a temple to the Lord and consistently putting junk in it is defacing the temple. And so to have this as a motivation on top of the others isn’t taking away from what this season is about. It is adding to it. At the end of the day it is not about the fast. If you fast, if you don’t fast, this is a season of preparation for the most important celebration of our faith.
Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up. -James 4:8-10
As we kneel and receive ashes on our foreheads today, as we stand and walk towards Easter may our desire and our purpose be that the external disciplines or fasts match the inward disposition of a heart inclined to Christ. How do you observe Lent? Is there anything different about these six weeks in your personal life?