The time leading to Easter has long been seen in many Christian traditions as the yearly opportunity to take a good, hard look at the state of our souls and ask the question, “Do I need a Savior?”
A great way to engage in that interior journey is to undergo a fast. A fast, the intentional tossing aside of certain practices or gratifications, opens our eyes quickly to our habits of self-indulgence and mindless activities.
There is no one proscribed fast. Some need to give up meals, or sweets or caffeine or alcohol. Others need to give up social networking or video games or TV or the reading of certain types of printed materials. Attitudes and actions like habitual grumbling, criticism, prejudices, mean-spiritedness, laziness, destructive procrastination, over-spending, gossiping, greed, obsessive exercising and superficial religious activities are all fodder for the fast.
I’ve found over the years that the most important thing to give up is the very thing that, when suggested to us, brings the immediate response, “Oh no–anything but that.”
A few years ago, I was in conversation with a young woman who had chosen to live a highly ascetic lifestyle. She had already given up meat, shampoo, cosmetics, buying new clothes, and dozens of other pleasures. For Lent, she was planning greater rigor in her life, depleting herself of even more normal pleasures. I suggested to her that such a fast seemed a bit self-serving. She’d already proven to herself and those around her that she could live very simply. Her fast would simply reinforce what appeared to be an attitude of superiority toward those who were not as disciplined as she. Perhaps in her case, she actually needed to fast from fasting. Her response, “No, anything but that.”
When we’d prefer to give up “anything but that,” it means we’ve crossed over and started to worship the “that” in our lives. The old fashioned word is idolatry. Today, we might call it “addictive behavior” or “skewed priorities” but the meaning is the same. The behavior or habit has taken the place of God in our lives. We circle ourselves around that habit, and we do so to our detriment and to the detriment of those around us. We have hindered the presence of Holy Grace.
Fasting is a part of almost every religious tradition. There is possibly no other discipline that will tell you so much about yourself.
For this short period of time, give it a try. One day at a time, one hour at a time, one minute at a time, see if you can set down the habit or practice or attitude that has you in its clutches. If possible, write down what you learn from this so it will stay with you longer.
I know that when I give up a meal, it teaches me deep sympathy for those who are hungry because they have no food. If I am hungry, yet am surrounded by delicious temptations, I pray with greater passion for those whose stomachs are growling from hunger and whose options for relief are essentially non-existent.
Give it a try. Open your eyes. Get ready for Easter, for the hope of all humanity. Death will indeed be forever conquered.
One more thing: remember to set your clocks forward one hour on Saturday—preferably early that day. Sunday is what I call “National Sleep Deprivation Day” as the government’s tampering with Mother Nature happens yet another year. Yes, Day Light Savings time is upon us again!