I have seen several admonitions that this Lent we ought to fast things like greed, suspicion, judgmental attitudes, anger, gossip, bitterness.
No doubt the encouragement is well intended. And there is a core truth to it. The central theme of the Ash Wednesday service is “rend your heart and not your garments.” We must never be of those who give lip service to God or make a show of righteousness while living in opposition to God’s love.
Throughout the duration of a Lenten fast we need to be reminded of what Isaiah says:
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” 58:6
However, I think we all too easily disregard a much needed a much neglected discipline in the name of rending the heart. We behave like one Western media outlet that subtitled their story on Pope Francis’s encouragement to engage in true charity this lent with the line, “no need to give up chocolate and booze this year for lent.” We indulge in the name of not being self-righteous.
I say “We” with all sincerity and no judgment beyond what is directed at myself.
I hate fasting. And I am horrible at it.
I cannot remember a Lenten season when I did not fail on some rather significant point…usually within the first few days.
Perhaps that is rooted in my culture. For those of us in Southern families, food forms the basis for practically every positive experience and the remedy for most bad ones.
Still, I think the problem runs deeper. It is genetic. I am human.
That is precisely one reason I need to fast. Self-will is deeply ingrained. Fasting, before it does anything else, reveals my depth of need for God’s Spirit. After all, it is fairly easy to be kind or loving when I feel well fed and comfortable.
Indeed, when all is well with me it is quite tempting to congratulate myself on how well I behave. But decency in the midst of comfort is not what the Fruit of the Spirit is about. In fact, to “fast” those things like greed, suspicion, judgmental attitudes, anger, gossip, and bitterness is not fasting. To paraphrase a priest from my home church, Fr. David Pucik, to not do things you ought not do anyway is not fasting, it is good behavior. Fasting is giving up something good. A most significant point to which we will return, Lord willing.