Lent is just about upon us. It’s a season before Easter that is meant to prepare us for Easter morning. Traditionally, it has consisted of some sort of fasting, and that is totally contrary to who we are. Many pastors (including this one) have mistakenly claimed that fasting is contrary to modern society, with our emphasis on consumption, commercialism, and instant gratification. That’s true, but fasting has been no less radical in other periods of human history. Imagine a world without supermarkets, without irrigation, government subsidies, and the technological wonders of modern agriculture when a flood or a drought during one summer could mean massive amounts of starvation. Refusing to eat?! In a world where calories are hard enough to come by! That is counter-cultural.
Fasting is supposed to be foreign, difficult, and counter to our nature. But here’s the thing: fasting isn’t the point. The point is not to lose weight, to give up a bad habit, or to even gain control over ourselves. Quite the opposite, actually. The point is to remind ourselves of God being in control. God is the one who sends the rains and the sunshine. God is the one who created the fruit of the fields and the fauna that live on them. We are dependent upon God, and that is what Lent is for. It is a reminder that we are not in control.
Another unintended consequence (collateral damage, you might say) of fasting is the belief that we are punishing our bodies to reward our spirits. Our flesh is evil, the soul is good. This world is doomed, the next is what counts. There’s a kernel of a version of truth in those sentiments, but they’re just wrong. God made us and declared us good – body, mind, and spirit. Fasting is about reemphasizing what we tend to lose track of. Left unchecked, we can preoccupy ourselves with lunch plans, dinner parties, exercise routines, diets, and all manner of things for our bodies and never even take a moment to drink from the well for the sake of our thirsty souls. That doesn’t make our bodies evil; it just means we need to reorient.
While fasting gets the major press during Lent, I want to encourage you to couple your fast with another practice. Commit to prayer, to faithfully reading the Scriptures, to service, to sharing your faith, to creating a fruit of the Spirit in your life. Fasting in itself can be good; we need to be emptied of our desires every now and again. But don’t forfeit the opportunity to fill up with something good. If I give up Cheetos for Lent and eat Doritos instead, I gain nothing. But if I give up Facebook and take up choir, perhaps I come away with a greater sense of worship in my life. Don’t just starve your body, give drink to your soul.
What will you give up for Lent? But also, what will you gain for Lent?