It’s almost time again. It’s almost time to give something up: chips, chocolate, Facebook, The Housewives Franchise…
It’s almost time to start the deprivation process and also tell everyone we know how we’re doing it and if we are succeeding or not.
We’re not sure why or how, but everyone else is, so let’s buckle up, too! It’s Lent time!
I grew up in the Southern Baptist “Tradition.” I say that, because as a denomination, tradition isn’t really our thing. Unlike our Catholic and Lutheran brothers and sisters, we are not a creedal people. So I am just now learning about the sacred practice of Lent (still learning).
The first time I ever fasted was in college with a non-denominational ministry called the Navigators. It was an all day prayer meeting which I did my best to completely avoid. However…the morning of, I randomly woke up early as a bird, spent time reading the Bible, and was having that overwhelming (nagging) sensation in my gut that I should go (UGH. FOOD!!!!) when my friend, Kari called to say she was feeling the same way.
So we went. And what happened was beautiful and hard to explain. But in our hunger for food, God drew near to us. It’s hard to explain, and honestly sounds a bit like the making of a cynical Mandy Moore (or Michael Moore, too, actually) movie. But it was communion and it was good.
In America, I think we are a little behind other parts of the world when it comes to fasting and prayer. In our plentiful frenzy, we rarely sit still to hear the voice of God. We don’t say “what now?” We don’t replace the good with the better. Quick to complain, envy, and pine, we fill the holes in our lives with possessions and hobbies. Naturally bent toward something bigger, we look around us instead of toward our Father in Heaven.
Lent is a time to reset.
Here are two ideas I’ve been considering as I think about my own preparation for Resurrection Sunday.
My fast should be between me and God, private.
In Matthew 6, part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he tells us in verse 1,
Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
And then verse 2 says,
So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.
Later on, regarding the fast, we see this in verses 16-18,
When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
There’s an episode of Friends, where Phoebe asserts that there is truly no selfless act. That even in giving, we feel better about ourselves. And man, she’s right. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to pat ourselves on the back when we’ve given someone something? Like even if it’s our crap to the Goodwill. Even if it’s the crumbs off our plates, the leftovers. We’re like “way to go, me!!!”
But if our obedience is anonymous, if our volunteering is behind the scenes, if we give our first fruits, if our Lent is a secret preparation for Resurrection Sunday, it’s harder to become prideful. It’s easier to step aside to see what God wants to teach us.
My fast should be the giving up of something good, for something better.
In the past whenever I’ve gone on a diet, all I can think about is the food I want that I can’t have (looking at you, pastries of all shapes and sizes). If I don’t have a plan to replace junk food with the most delicious baby carrots and hummus, I will to quickly fall right into the arms of my old friend, the Cheddar and Sour Cream Ruffle.
Lent is the same way, if I give up Facebook, but don’t replace my cravings for approval, I will fail. I have to replace my sacrifice with my Savior, for he is our real Bread and Wine.
In our preparation for the greatest sacrifice ever made, and in our own small sacrifice, I’m certain that our Heavenly Father has truth to teach us, sin to melt away, and joy to grow. When we give up the accolades and public acknowledgement of our great Lent Fast of 2017, we will avoid the trap that Lent is about us, and maybe find something much more meaningful at the end.