Devotions for Lent
Fasting For Lent
For centuries, Christians have observed the season of Lent by fasting from food and observing other sacrificial acts.
These acts help us become more aware of our true needs. When we deny ourselves familiar comforts—whether food or some other part of our daily routine (TV, coffee, alcohol, internet, etc.)—we are more mindful of our great need for God. Also, when we deny our desires, whether sacred or profane, we become more acutely aware of them, because when they're not fed, they tend to surface in ways that are hard to ignore.
There is a traditional teaching aid in the church that informs the practical suggestions in this work. The church has long been helped in understanding unseen things by the practice of sacraments. A sacrament is a physical activity or thing that illuminates a spiritual reality. Water serves this purpose in baptism; a simple meal of bread and wine serves this purpose in the eucharist. Think about it: using wine to remember that Jesus made a sacrifice of blood helps teach us something, even if our brains are too tired to get it. Our stomachs are good learners. Through sacrament, we take in truth in new ways.
However, during Lent, it's not about taking things in, but taking them away. When we let our stomachs stay empty for just a little bit longer than we're used to, we learn something powerful about our weaknesses, our needs, and our desires. This, in turn, makes room for God to teach us something powerful about his strength, provision, and grace.
What follows is some suggestions for ways to fast. None of these are compulsory. Remember that the important thing is to take away distractions, to focus instead on the mercy, salvation, and comforting provision of God. Make time and space for God, and God will meet you.
What Can I Give Up?
First, some important considerations: if you have any concerns about whether dietary fasting (fasting from food) is safe for you, ask your physician, especially if you have a health concern (heart, diabetes). ... Don't fast from food if your are pregnant or nursing; make sure you always get plenty of fluids; and finally, don't make decisions for others (for example, don't modify a child's diet except to help them decide to cut nonessentials like sodas or desserts, etc.).
You know yourself best: which of the following might you do without? Try adding to your list each week (see the individual pages of the Calendar to read more specific suggestions). If you fast from all the food items listed in the Calendar pages, you may find that at the end of several weeks, you are eating very simply: vegetables, beans, rice, fruit, grains, etc. Take the suggestions one step at a time and make sure you do what is necessary to have energy for your work, community, or family.
Food: Meats, poultry (eggs too), fats and oils, soft drinks, 2nd helpings, Alcohol, Coffee (try tea or some other low-caffeine drink if you get headaches), dairy (milk and cheese), solid foods (only drink water or juices), Junk foods (chips, snacks, salty food), candy (plus refined sugar in general), and dessert (great for kids—very meaningful!).
Media: TV, movies, computer, email (set an autoresponder), Internet, magazines, radio, the phone (leave your cell phone off when appropriate), handhelds, video games, and other technology.
Other Things: You may want to fast from certain relationships, or people in general, choosing instead to walk only with God for a period. You may also fast from social events, parties, or clubs, if you regularly go out of your way for that kind of gathering.
Days: Leave it all behind: leave junk food, TV, cars, noise, and all the media and messages of the culture. Pack the very minimum (water, warm clothes, etc.) and find a trail, a mountain, or a beach, and feast on God.
Imitate Jesus, who took whole days to walk alone in the wilderness fasting and praying .... Give God the time and the room that he wants. God wants to fill you up, wants to bless you. If we are constantly pouring other stuff into our heads or stomachs, there will be little room for God.
On What Days Should I Fast?
Fast on any day but Sunday—the day of the resurrection—which is a feast day even during Lent. On Friday (the day of the crucifixion), many world Christians will fast, and it can be meaningful to join them. Try fasting from something on each day, Monday-Saturday. You may choose one day to fast from all foods or other comforts for as much of the day that you can (remembering to drink plenty of fluids). End your weekly fast on Sunday: on this day, enjoy your food and your freedom.
When you fast, you will occasionally be faced with a dilemma: someone offers you food that you have eliminated from your diet. Not everyone knows that you are fasting (nor should they—see below). Just about the time that you are beginning to feel good about going without your daily dose of chocolate—or whatever—somebody comes along to offer it to you with all good intentions. What is the proper response?
Let humility be your guide. Resist the temptation to explain that you are fasting and so refuse. If you can politely refuse without hurting the person's feelings, then do so. But if someone has prepared something for you to bless you (a special desert at the end of a meal, cookies for a visit, or a big steak dinner right after you gave up meat), then perhaps the more humble response is to accept gratefully. After all, the point of Lent is not the elimination of a specific food, it is sacrifice. Sometimes the greater sacrifice is to give up the idea of a perfect day of fasting for the sake of another.
When you fast, do not put on a sad face as the hypocrites do. They neglect their appearance so that everyone will see that they are fasting. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. When you go without food, wash your face and comb your hair, so that others cannot know that you are fasting, only your Father, who is unseen, will know. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you. (TEV)
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