For me, Lent has been a season wherein I’ve attempted to “give up” something in order to “become a better disciple.” I believe in Jesus, I believe in God the Father, God the Holy Spirit. In my darkest moments it’s an intentional discipline to turn to God for solace, comfort, direction. In my brightest moments, I sing, then think about singing praises. So, for me, Lent has always been an intentional time of focusing on some way to be more of Christ’s disciple.
A few years ago, I gave up caffeine (a true test of will power and discipline, believe me!), but I did not feel closer to God. Several years I gave up cookies, certain cuss words, thinking that if I could be aware of those words about to fly out of my mouth, I’d truly be on the path to awareness that is about holiness.
But it has not made a difference spiritually. None of it. Even when I did “really good” at practicing the absence of the item or behavior chosen.
So a few years ago, I began to practice a one day a week fast. Not a big deal, really, because I have the extra calories to burn, I have plenty in the cupboard, should I get weak or need a sugar boost in a heartbeat. And I’ve done really well with the discipline of fasting. The first year, the first two Fridays (my typically chosen day), I forgot. So it was mid morning, after breakfast with the children so my “sun-up to sun-down” got pushed back by the clock to a determined time until which I could not partake. And there was a sense of something happening about this fasting idea…I could tell you with honesty that the fasts were productive in making me think about why we eat when we do, about bodily rhythms, about giving produce without partaking….in my thinking a ‘first fruits’ parallel. But at the end of Lent, I didn’t experience a closer relationship with God because of my efforts.
I had read much about fasting and what fasting entails. How to keep from being overly weak (your last meal could/should be a fruit plate), that a small meal in the middle of the day ( about ¼ of your regular meal, no protein, preferably crackers and water but if you need more, then, by all means…), that “sun-up to sun-down” is an acceptable length to achieve the discipline that will bring you closer to God, help you turn to God for all that you need, you know, a good Lenten discipline.
So this year, in preparation, I sought another guru or two because I wanted to make sure I was ‘doing’ this right. And I discovered that I have completely missed the point. Fasting in the Bible was a common practice (I knew that)…that three days is the typical length and folks went up to forty days as they sought God, the Word of God, the presence, the wisdom of God in their time of need, in their religious journey, in their custom’s dictations. And it dawned on me, that my general, “get closer to God,” “be a better disciple” was merely a façade that masked a hollow attempt to “do Lent” in a good way.
One of the authors I read, and I’ll paraphrase because I don’t remember which one, one of the authors wrote that this is a spiritual practice, not a legal one. I think that smacked me upside my spiritual head. The things I have been doing, even the things I learned, were focused on the legal realities of fasting, not a deepening of the spirit, an opening of awareness…perhaps it took me this many years to be prepared for such an epiphany…or perhaps I’ve been pursuing, like so many, the easy path of legalism in order to not have to deal with the true demons in my life. Those things that turn me from God are so many, so varied, that it is easier to cling to the rules and regulations than to live in the deeper plane of constant reliance on God, the creator from chaos, the redeemer from failure, the unifier of my distance.
Yesterday, I ‘fasted’ for the day. It was less than 24 hours, by choice. I had to drive about 98 miles in a blizzard at the end of my day and I felt that it would not be a good time to test my reliance on God so I had a salad and bowl of thin gumbo. And water.
But the difference, the thing I learned, the legalism I let go of, was to pray through the pangs, to stop and be still in the weaknesses (no, I wasn’t dying, I have plenty of stored up energy in this body to do a forty day fast…but I did feel weak several times), and to rely on the water sips that are a part of the ancient fasting practices. Water of life, water of salvation, water of cleansing.
This first Friday of fasting, there was a newfound sense of peace, that I can do something solely for God. Not to tell every crony I meet that I am fasting, ‘no thank you for the doughnut,’ not to announce to the universe that I am working on my spirit. But that sense was truly there, that I can be something better, different, transformed. God is good, God is present, God is in me, working that which is pleasing to God.
I also gave up, in continuation of my new year’s resolution, cussing. When I have deep emotions, high negative passions, I cuss. I’m good at choosing the correct expletive for the moment. Since Jan 1, 2013, I’ve cussed three times. Once was this past Tuesday, once was the last week of January, and once was a total slip as I made someone laugh… ok, that’s not passion or negativity, it was funny, though. But it is my intent to honor the Word with my words, and cussing like a 1800’s sailor is rumored to have spoken is not honoring of my ability to use words properly nor does it honor God’s ability to create images and God’s gift of naming (see Genesis) that sticks. None of my cussing fits needs to stick, at least, not in retrospect.
So, I might write more on this later, maybe next week…not certain, but wanted to share it out here in cyberspace because it was a revelation to think of fasting as not a discipline of laws, but a discipline of my spirit, calling on God in physically felt weakness, in opportunity to suck on the life saver that called that it is, indeed, something that would make my stomach quit growling and ‘save’ my life.
Hopefully, this is a path, for me, of deepening and growth. God’s peace be with you!