I’ve only fasted a few times. And honestly, every time I did fast it showed me how weak and immature my faith was. During those days of fasting it was all I could do to turn to the Lord in prayer amid the grumbling and growling of my stomach. I felt like a failure, but at the same time was resolved to walk closer to Christ, so persevered. I know without a doubt my struggles were completely spiritual and not physical because honestly there are many normal days when I go without food until late afternoon when I get busy. Those days I hardly struggle focusing and going about my day without constantly being distracted by hunger pangs. And yet during fasting days, facing the same lack of food by choice, I can think of nothing but my physical hunger.
At the beginning of Lent this year, with a desire to develop and grow my faith, I choose to fast from certain items for the 40-day period. Before this year, I’d never given anything up for Lent, and actually only knew a few people who engaged in this tradition. My “Granny” is one lady I remember faithfully giving up something for Lent. When I was in eighth grade we lived with Granny for a half year in Southington CT. That year, like every year, Granny gave up canned milk for her coffee, grapes and cookies (which she always hid beneath the couch cushions).
My sister Kathy and I with Granny and Grandpa in Southington CT
Prior to studying about the season of Lent, I didn’t know what the tradition of giving something up signified. But as I read and learned, I discovered a Lenten fast is all about denying ourselves something pleasurable as a voluntary response to the Lord in imitation of Jesus’ 40-day fast in the desert. By saying “no” to something physical, we create opportunities to say “yes” to greater nourishment from the Lord. Someone once said that if prayer is attaching ourselves to God, then fasting is detaching ourselves from the world.
So with much prayer, I decided to fast from soda and sweets for 40-days. My intention was to turn to the Lord to satisfy my deepest needs every time I desired soda or sweets. I eagerly anticipated the 40 days to pass quickly by, and my desires for deeper communion with the Lord to grow exponentially as my desires for soda and sweets diminished as quickly.
I have to be honest – this has hardly happened. My desires for diet coke have short-circuited and left me focusing on what I couldn’t have, but desperately wanted. There have even been a few times when I’ve broken my fast with sweets, somehow justifying my lack of commitment and faithfulness. In fact, the forty days have drug by even slower than it takes for spring to come to eastern Montana!
As we enter Holy Week, leading to a solemn remembrance of Christ’s death and a joyful celebration of His resurrection, I’m reminded that Easter is much more than a happy reunion with a beloved diet coke. And yet I wouldn’t be completely honest if I didn’t tell you that’s one reason I’m looking forward to Easter. How could my faith and commitment to the things of the Lord be so weak and shallow? What I prayed would become a time of major growth and transformation, this Lent season has in fact left me rather disappointed. I pause now in deep reflection and sorrow thinking of all the ways I’ve failed in preparing for the most significant act of redemption and love for the entirety of humanity.
And yet….perhaps it is that very sorrow and sense of failure that accomplishes exactly what Lent is all about. Following and walking in the ways of the Lord is nothing I can do on my own, in my own strength. I have come face-to-face with my weakness over something as simple as a Lenten fast of soda and sweets. I fully realize my complete need of His grace, mercy and guidance. I readily admit I would have likely been sleeping alongside the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane or standing alongside Peter denying Him (or at least running down to the local Loaf & Jug for a diet coke!).
So as this Holy Week commences I eagerly look forward to celebrating the advent of Christ’s redemptive love and fulfilled promises. I rejoice in the freedom He offers and with true humility respond. It is His strength upon which I rely and lean. I join the Psalmist and cry out,
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart fail;
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
And with eager anticipation, not based on my own actions or abilities, but His promises alone, I echo Habakkuk in celebration and adoration:
Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills.
(By Kristen Marble at Kristenmarble.com)