I feel like a total hypocrite, but I have a confession to make. After writing a post in preparation for Lent and reflecting on the nature of Lenten fasting, I never began a fast. I haven’t been fasting from anything.
But, it wasn’t for lack of care or motivation. Let me fill you in on my thought process over the last month.
In my post on fasting I admitted that I had not yet chosen how to observe Lent. I was struggling to identify an appropriate fast (not eating isn’t much of an option during pregnancy), and nothing was coming to mind. I knew the sin issue that I needed to work on and I’ve written about it here–control. This whole baby thing has brought out the control freak side of me in an entirely new way, and I think it’s a real idol in my life.
But how do you fast from control?
A friend of mine has actually decided to fast from control for Lent. Whenever she feels herself trying to take over a situation in a manner that conflicts with trust and surrender to God, she abstains.
I think that’s pretty creative, but for some reason I didn’t think it was the right practice for me.
So I continued to pray about my Lenten fast and then Ash Wednesday came and went. A week of Lent came and went. Still no direction. I couldn’t figure out why I was having so much trouble finding an appropriate fast, but I did continue to reflect on my control issues, to pray through them, and repent of them.
Then I had an insight, with a little help. A fellow Duke Div grad wrote a piece for Duke’s Faith and Leadership site in which he reflected on the true purpose of Lenten fasting. Written by Benjamin McNutt the post is called “Giving Up my Self-Image for Lent,” and in it he wrote the following words:
Lent is that time in the liturgical year when the dutiful take on certain practices or relinquish others as a way of walking with Christ up that stony road to Golgotha. There are, no doubt, those among the faithful who celebrate the point with a bit too much zeal and in extravagant displays of observance that miss the forest of sin for the penitential trees. It is, after all, not this or that particular habit Lent intends to curb.
The season is more a confession about the orientation of our whole way of being human — that our lives sit out of true from the cosmic dimensions of God’s glory revealed in the angles of the cross. Lent reminds us that it is not a habit that must die but the idea of ourselves we cherish above the glory.
I have no idea whether my failure to fast was itself a lesson from God. Perhaps it has more to do with my own spiritual blindness to sin than anything else. After all, finding a personal sin on which to focus through fasting should not be that hard. There are plenty to choose from!
However, Benjamin’s words helped me to think about the last month in a different way. I no longer saw it as failure. The purpose of Lent is not to check “fasting” off your list of annual good Christian practices, but to reflect on your desperate need for the grace of God. Though fasting is an important practice to which the church must cling, fasting itself is not the point.
Lent is the one time of year when our sin natures take center stage and we meditate on the darkness of our souls. We are broken people who hurt ourselves and one another. We cannot help but betray God’s faithfulness, and the depths of our depravity seems to know no bounds.
And while this sort of reflection makes Lent a somber affair, it is necessary if we are to appreciate the hope and glory of Easter.
So if you’re like me and you haven’t been fasting for the last month, or if you’ve become a little prideful about the practice, remember the real reason why we observe Lent. It is not to change a habit, but to reflect on “the orientation of our whole way of being.”
I’ll close with the words of Paul in Romans 7:24-25 which, to me, capture the tone of this season and summarize the arc of Lent and Easter:
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?
Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!