“Are you giving up anything for Lent?”
Traditionally, the season of Lent has been a time fasting as we prepare for Holy Week and Easter. But why give something up? Why fast at all? Does God like you better if you fast from something? Are you more holy? Is God more likely to listen to your prayers if you do not eat chocolate for six weeks?
Fasting is a spiritual discipline which Christians have practiced for the past 2,000 years; however, often people practiced fasting in ways which were unhealthy, both physically and spiritually. No, giving up food does not make God like you more, you are already good enough. God is not impressed by our heroic self-discipline, and it does not move God to be more attentive to us.
New Testament scholar Scot McKnight says, “Fasting is a person’s whole body, natural response to life’s sacred moments.”1 We fast as a response to the things God is doing or has done in our lives. It is a way of bringing our whole self to God. During Lent, we fast so we can attend more fully to the reality of the cross and the glory of resurrection as we prepare for Easter. So, if we give up something, such as food or beverage, social media, or another habit, the purpose is not so much to change that part of our life, as it is to cultivate our awareness of God in this season. We choose for a time to not do something so that we may give our attention to what Christ has done for us in his death and resurrection instead.
Fasting, done right is a type of self-care. If you have medical issues, you should not give up anything, or fast in anyway which would compromise your health. But I would encourage us to explore if there is something we can give up which will help us mark this time as sacred. Is there a food or practice we use habitually as a life-coping mechanism? Perhaps consider giving that one thing up (you can cheat on Sundays) and when you feel a craving towards it, let God’s Spirit call you to prayer. In past Lenten seasons, I have given up meat and used the season to think about our food systems and injustice. This year I plan to give up snacking.
Or consider doing the Wesley Fast.2 Through Lent. John Wesley would fast weekly, from Thursday after dinner until Friday dinner. Instead of breakfast and lunch on Fridays, Wesley would take the time to devote himself to prayer.
Whatever you choose to give up, or however you chose to mark this season, remember the purpose is to help us pay closer attention. Fasting reveals our hungers and the things we rely on, and it helps us pay attention to Christ’s presence. The God who poured out his life for us in Jesus is with us in this time as always.
1 Scot Mcknight, Fasting, (Nashville, Thomas Nelson Press, 2009), xiv.
2The Wesley Fast — Methodist Prayer – https://www.methodistprayer.org/wesleyfast