I have been fasting for Lent since I was a little girl. I am not Catholic, but was raised by a mother who thought she wanted to be a nun before she married my father and had four children. While the convent didn’t work out for her, she did carry on some traditions she learned from her Catholic friends. Among them was her penchant for giving up chocolate for the six weeks between Ash Wednesday and Easter.
Over the years, my fasting has matured. I no longer start off giving up candy, and fail spectacularly three weeks later. Instead, I’ve been focusing more on praying purposefully, trying to be nicer to people, and spending more time in my Bible. I’m not always successful at those tasks, but even if I don’t read three chapters every day, I feel good about my efforts overall.
When we think of fasting, we tend to think on terms of what we are giving up. My friends stop drinking soda, or they step away from social media, and those things are great. But I believe that we ought to think more about the things we gain when fasting. Isaiah 58:1-12 is my favorite passage of scripture when it comes to fasting. I know some people are partial to Daniel’s fast in the Old Testament, or Jesus’s fast in the New Testament, and those fasts assuredly have their place. But this passage in Isaiah speaks to my heart in a different way.
In it, the Lord basically says that our fasting is in vain, that mankind puts on a show of sack cloth and ashes, but then we treat each other poorly. The Lord, then describes the preferred method of fasting: to loose wicked bonds, undo heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and to share with those less fortunate. Imagine if the universal church participated in that kind of fast for six weeks? The world would surely be a more beautiful place.
I believe that God wants to give us beauty instead of ashes, but we’ve gotten so used to the ashes that we stopped searching for the beauty. I don’t know what my Lenten fast is going to be this year, but I can guarantee that I’ll be focused a lot less on what I am giving up, and a lot more on what I will gain.
I found this prayer, that perfectly encapsulates what I hope to give and get from this season of Lent.
“Almighty and ever living God,
you invite us deeper into your world, your people, your Lent.
May this time be one of outward focus;
seeking you in those we often ignore.
Help us live a Lent focused on freedom, generosity, and encounter.
Give us hearts hungry to serve you
and those who need what we have to give.”