Lately my husband and I have fallen into a bit of a bad habit. In fact, even as I write this post I’m engaged in the very act of it! We are sitting on the couch, next to each other, both on our laptops with the television on, not speaking. We are together, but we aren’t interacting with each other. And unfortunately this happens a lot. At the end of a long day we are both exhausted and barely up to the task of talking, so we opt for the low maintenance quality time of studying together or watching t.v. together (although the “quality” aspect of it is rather questionable).
I think this is a pretty normal problem for couples, as well as friends. It is amazing how less intentional I became with friends after we moved in together. Rarely did we schedule meals to catch up and chat. We just assumed that, by the very nature of living together, we knew what was going on in one another’s lives.
The thing is, intimacy is not a passive activity. It’s not something that just happens on its own. In fact, it can require a lot of hard work, which means we’re likely to take the path of least resistance instead. Rather than put in the effort of getting to know someone, we either make no effort at all and spend our time on less demanding activities, or we find less demanding, superficial ways of bonding.
When I realize this has happened to a relationship in my life, I work toward re-centering it. Oftentimes, that means cutting out the activity that has distracted us from genuine closeness. For example, one of the ways that women bond with one another is through gossip. It may start out with the best of intentions–concern about a friend, perhaps–but it easily morphs into something dishonorable. Another way that women bond is through shopping together, which is not in itself wrong, but it can reinforce bad habits or encourage materialistic temptations.
In both cases, the strength of those friendships might benefit from an intentional pruning of the unhealthy behaviors. When it comes to shopping or talking about others, the women might consider taking a break. In the case of me and my husband, we might consider turning off the t.v. for awhile. In each of these scenarios, the relationships would benefit from a period of fasting from the habits that stifle their growth.
Fasting is perhaps one of the most unobserved Christian disciplines in all of Scripture. I suspect that one of the main reasons Christians brush off fasting is because we don’t understand it. It is difficult to discern any direct correlation between fasting and discipleship. Why would God ask us to abstain from something like food in order to seek Him? Is prayer not enough?
Given this confusion, I hope the above illustrations are a helpful way to conceive of fasting. Of course, there is more to fasting than intimacy with God–such as obedience–but one of the chief functions of fasting is to temporarily remove distractions from our lives in order to focus more intentionally on Him. Through fasting, we remove those low maintenance security blankets that have gradually morphed into God-supplanting idols. And food is a significant one. What else do we depend on more for our very existence? What sustains us more on a daily basis? Is there anything more basic than this most basic necessity?
Practically speaking, most of us depend more on food than on God. For that reason, fasting from food is a relational wake-up call. We might be following God but we are depending on food, and that mindset has an effect on our relationship with Him. So we fast, on occasion, to check our hearts and remove anything that has grown to a place of unhealthy standing between us and Him.
With all of this in mind, I encourage you to consider fasting during Lent this year. It begins in just over 2 weeks (Ash Wednesday is on March 9) and extends until Easter. It is a Christian tradition to fast during this season, but many believers observe the practice as an act of sheer willpower, a test of their personal discipline. They approach it the way someone might approach running a marathon, not growing in intimacy with the Lord.
To resist this pitfall, I encourage to spend the next 2 weeks searching your heart and studying your life. What stands between you and intimacy with God? What does your heart gravitate towards instead of doing the hard work of cultivating a relationship with Him? Once you have pinpointed an area that needs to be pruned, resolve to fast from it during Lent and choose an accountability partner in the process. Maybe the two of you can fast together! Ultimately, the challenge is not whether you can last the whole 40 days, but whether you are closer to the heart of God afterward.
And if you have any particularly creative ideas for observing Lent, please share them here! I’m still praying about how I will observe Lent this year, and I would love to hear from you.