Those of us getting tired of winter’s cold grip eagerly welcomed the official start of the season of spring last week. A couple weeks before that we entered the church season of Lent which spans from Ash Wednesday to Resurrection Sunday (a.k.a. Easter). Both seasons are about renewal: In springtime we anticipate longer days, birds returning, flowers coming up, the grass turning green, kids on the playground, and farmers getting in their fields – all reminders of new life. In Lent, we seek renewal and new life in our hearts.
To help experience this renewal, Christians often choose to fast during Lent. For some, that means skipping a meal each day; others abstain from a particular food, such as chocolate. I’ve also heard of people choosing to disconnect from social media or turn off the radio in the car. (One of my children volunteered to fast from doing homework, but I don’t think that’s quite the right idea.) Each time you miss the thing from which you are fasting, you choose to focus on God instead. So instead of scrolling through your Facebook feed or hanging out on Snapchat, you choose to read the Bible instead. You treat each growl of your stomach as a call to prayer.
Reading from the prophesy of Isaiah the other day, I was reminded of another kind of fasting, a kind of fasting to which God called his people when their abstaining from food had devolved into an empty ritual, something to just check off the To Do list. Here are some ways I’m being challenged to rethink fasting this season:
“You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight. You fast, but you swing a mean fist. The kind of fasting you do won’t get your prayers off the ground… This is the kind of fast day I’m after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families. Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once.” – Isaiah 58:4, 6-8, Message paraphrase
These sorts of things make skipping a meal suddenly sound a lot easier than before! But when I choose to “fast” in these kinds of ways, I suspect my walk with God will grow closer. It’s not that fasting from food, social media, unjust practices, or a stingy attitude will impress God and save me. It’s more that this sort of fasting will make me more attentive to his presence and plans for me. And that will create a very welcomed kind of renewal in me during Lent that will have an impact long after the season is over.
These reflections appear in today’s Rock Valley Bee.