“What did YOU give up for Lent?” school friends would ask in the month before Easter. As their resident Jesus freak, I surely would have given up something big—like all food and water.
“Nothing.” I would say, “My church doesn’t do that.”
In fact, growing up in my PC-USA church, I somehow missed out on Lent. Instead, we had “One Great Hour of Sharing” where I took home a plastic bread shaped bank in which I was supposed to put small change every night. Of course, I never did because I had no money, so Easter morning my parents emptied their change purses into the banks, and there, in a plastic breadbox, lay the whole of my Lenten spiritual practice.
As an adult, despite attending an Episcopal church, for the first six years I still didn’t fast for Lent. I wanted to assert my freedom in Christ. . . and I was just lazy and intimidated by the prospect of depriving myself for 46 days (the dirty little secret being that it’s not 40 days, it’s 40 days plus Holy Week!).
My friends gave up all sorts of things. Swearing, complaining, criticizing, and worrying, along with the more typical chocolate, fast food, chips, and dessert. Come to think of it, I think I tried giving up complaining, but failed so spectacularly the first day that I gave up by the end of the first week.
It was only after bearing my first child, when my already spotty spiritual practices became virtually nonexistent, that I decided to try fasting during Lent. And I went for the doozy.
If I hadn’t been praying before, there was nothing like giving up dessert to start me praying then. Each time I wanted something sweet, I prayed, “Jesus, let me desire you more than I desire dessert.”
I found myself praying that prayer 10-25 times a day. That’s a lot more relating to Jesus than before.
One night we went to dinner at a friend’s house. The husband baked a flourless chocolate almond torte in our honor.
“That looks so amazing. . . and I can’t have any,” I blurted.
“What?” said our host, “Well how about some peppermint ice cream?”
Talk about being led into temptation. . .
“Ice cream’s a dessert too.”
He looked puzzled, then laughed, “I assumed you gave up chocolate, but all DESSERT???”
My husband said he had just witnessed my most supreme exhibition of self-control he’d ever seen. And to break my fast that Easter, I baked my own flourless chocolate almond torte. Sweet.
Since my first Lenten dessert fast, I’ve tried many other fasts including:
- Reading novels (excruciatingly difficult—found myself avidly reading magazines and newspapers instead–sort of beside the point)
- Listening to NPR in the car (even more excruciatingly difficult—I hoped to either pray or engage with the kids, instead I just felt enraged all the time that I couldn’t listen to my daily fix and had to listen to the kids’ shenanigans)
- TV (the easiest by far—so easy I barely noticed I gave anything up)
Over the years, I’ve tried adding disciplines instead of fasting, but too often found that the energy it took to do something additional was just too daunting.
A few years ago, I never got around to deciding on a fast, so I skipped it, again proclaiming my freedom in Christ. But when Holy Week came, I felt like I’d missed out —celebrating the awesome good news of Jesus risen from the dead and new life for all just isn’t as awesome without the spiritual preparation and (minor) suffering beforehand.
This year I’m pseudo vegetarian for Lent, only cooking vegetarian, but eating flexibly when others feed me. I also decided I can eat seafood when eating out. My 15 year-old daughter has joined me in the fast, and the rest of my family is forced to partake every night since I’m the cook.
Fasting from meat falls somewhere between fasting from TV and dessert, but closer to TV. I certainly haven’t found myself praying, “Jesus let me desire you more than meat” even once.
My daughter says she thinks it’s too easy. I think that’s because she isn’t cooking. Frankly, the greatest suffering comes from the complaining two kids forced into vegetarianism every dinner—especially last night when I served Vegetable “meat” (aka as mushroom) loaf.
But it’s still been good. Fasting from meat makes me pause and think about Jesus, sacrifice, whole-world ecology and health each time I eat. I hope it helps the family do the same.
Already I’m wondering what I’ll fast from next year. Dessert again? Wine? Whining? The daunting Daniel fast? Or maybe I’ll have the courage to try the most feared of all again—NPR.
Do you fast during Lent? Why or why not?
What are you fasting from? How has that worked for you?