Friday, March 11, 2011
...a holy Lent...
Fasting is an ancient ritual and it spans many different religions including Buddhism, Bahá'í, and Christianity. Of course, at this time of year, Christians observe a "fast" for Lent. Fast means to abstain from all or some food, drink, or both. People who seriously fast will eat nothing and drink only water for a set length of time. At this point, I would like to interject that before you decide to fast at all, you should consult with your physician, especially if you have other health concerns.
But the fasting that many Christians do for Lent, is nothing like truly fasting as it known in many cultures. Some will give up meat, which is probably the greatest sacrifice people will make, unless of course they are vegetarians and do not really care much for meat anyway. No, most people I know will "fast" from sodas or candy. There is even the fasting from facebook or other social networking sites. Then there is the fasting from various other activities. For those who strictly observe this type of fast, it may be giving up video games or television.
Now, if you relate to the above style of fasting, please do not take offense at what I am about to write. I believe many people give up such things with pure hearts and good intentions. For many, this is easing into a practice they may not be familiar with, but if you have given up sodas for Lent for the past ten years, I feel like I must ask...why? The time spent on social networking sites can be time that is given to God. I know if we give up something we consume every day, like sodas, we are reminded to identify with the sacrifice of Christ for us. If it prompts you to remember this, then that is good, but of many of the people who will give up something for Lent never fully connect it to growing in the Christian faith.
I personally, however, cannot identify giving up chocolate or facebook as even remotely equivalent to recognizing the pain, suffering, and sacrificial love of Christ. Maybe it's just me. I tend to not "give up" stuff, preferring to add something that will bring me closer to God. Adding an additional devotional time, adding acts of service or charitable giving, these things I feel bring me closer to God, keeps me looking toward Christ as an example, and growing in my discipleship.
I told a confirmation class one year that they should give up whatever they placed in priority before God. They very honestly told me they couldn't do that. Many things get in the way of kids relationship with God, not the least of which are well-meaning parents who do not think about what time they give to God, let alone what they allow for their children. I think this is the question we must ask ourselves..."does this act of sacrifice, whatever it may be, bring me closer to God, keep me looking toward the example of Christ, and help me grow in my discipleship."
This year, however, when asked what I was "giving up" for Lent, in a very rushed way I jokingly replied, "complaining." It was after all a very busy Ash Wednesday, with complications and frustration, so it seemed to be a good thing to say, and got the desired chuckle from whomever I was speaking to. But then I thought about it. And I really began to think about it. The kind of contemplation that works its way into your heart and soul much like an annoying grass burr works its way into your life by infesting your yard, getting attached to your clothes, and burying into your skin and hair. That doesn't sound like I liked that thought very much, does it?
It was definitely persistent, and I began to believe that giving up complaining was exactly what I needed to do. Then every time I turned around I was thinking about what I had just said, or if I were really paying attention, what I was saying at the time. I kept thinking to myself, "was that complaining?" I didn't think prior to this exercise that I complained any more than the average person, still don't. I believe we complain much more than we think we do. But this Lenten exercise has made me much more aware of my thoughts and words.
It is day two of Lent 2011, and I must confess that this is actually probably one of those exercises that I will look at for the whole 40 days and wrestle with each and every day. I don't think I have perfected giving up complaining, especially when there seems to be an inordinate amount of activity that would tend to lend itself to some whining in any event. Many things in our lives can be frustrating and we complain to blow off steam, but I have found that this exercise prompts me to pray, at the very least, that I might not complain.
I pray that whatever exercise you do whether it is giving up something, adding something, or taking stock of your attitude, you will do with a sense of self-examination, and prayer. It isn't supposed to be easy, and it isn't supposed to be something that doesn't have any application to bettering ourselves spiritually. The act of fasting is supposed to be something (at least in my belief) you wrestle with. Perfection isn't required before hand, but more of the target you are moving toward. It comes with the practice.
I think the prayer for everyone should be, "Lord, what barrier to faithful discipleship do I need your help to remove." I pray that you will observe a Lent that is holy and pleasing to God.