With Lent starting in the middle of February, my thoughts turn to memories of other Lenten seasons. I recall when, as a middle-schooler, I gave up, or fasted from, candy and other sweets. However, although I refrained from eating candy, I did buy some sugary cough drops to snack on—even though I did not have a cough or sore throat. Substitution was the name of that game! It was another example of the letter versus the spirit of the prohibition. I would proudly proclaim that I gave up candy for Lent.
Fasting can include abstaining from an activity as well as from a food group. There are spiritual benefits to derive from depriving oneself of certain pleasures. It is supposed to turn our minds away from worldly pleasures or freedoms so as to focus on the greater, spiritual concerns and endeavors.
This past year, the pandemic has forced me to stop doing many activities I enjoy. It has been almost as if I were fasting from shopping, eating out, and getting together socially with friends and relatives. I certainly did not choose to fast from these activities as a spiritual practice. At first, I did not see a benefit—other than health safety—from staying home so much. If nothing else, I have learned that there is a big difference between what I perceive as burden and as opportunity,
Now, fasting is a purposely self-imposed burden or abstention, which can be used as an opportunity to reassess priorities and values. Of course, there can be beneficial side effects that were not the main objectives of the fasting. If I fast from certain foods, I might lose some weight. If I fast from shopping or certain other activities, I might save some money or use my extra time to do those chores that never seem to get done in a timely fashion.
Hopefully, this Lent, I will not hesitate to volunteer to fast with the proper motivation. Recently, I have resurrected a craft hobby I used to do decades ago. It has become again a fun pastime and is almost a bit addictive. Maybe I will try to fast from doing so much of that activity and spend that time in extra spiritual reading or centering prayer. We read in the Bible that fasting was often a form of repentance. I believe Lent can be a productive time for healthy, honest soul-searching, with an openness to the Holy Spirit’s promptings and inspirations.
Jesus showed us how to avoid succumbing to temptations while fasting. In the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 4, we can read about the devil making evil suggestions to Jesus. Perhaps the devil would be opposed to the idea of any of us fasting to come closer to the Lord this Lent. That saying, “The devil is in the details,” could possibly apply if we aren’t careful. Rationalization ranks high on the scale of deterring holiness. It is a worthwhile goal to strive to use our creativity to come up with ways of substituting selfish habits for selfless offerings of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
I conclude with a prayer to the Holy Spirit for guidance.
Come, Holy Spirit, teach us what is holy and pleasing to the Father. Help us to know what to avoid this upcoming Lenten season, and what we should faithfully add to our lives, so that with repentant hearts, we grow closer to our loving Savior, Jesus. In gratitude, we pray. Amen.
Image: Christ in the Wilderness, Ivan Kramskoy, 1872
Sharon Krause is a RENEW volunteer whose writing has appeared in several resources for small-group faith sharing. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother residing in Manchester, Connecticut. Over the years, she has served in many parish ministries.