It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’
~ Matthew 4:4 (NIV)
The concept of Lent runs contrary to our mainstream North American culture. We live in a society that prides itself on having plenty, and we’re driven by an insatiable need for immediate self-gratification. We constantly run to and fro, pride ourselves on always being busy, and our lives are full of stress.
However, Lent should mean much more to us than just another ritualistic event in the liturgical calendar that we must dutifully observe. It is meant to be a solemn season of reflection, prayer, penance, self-denial, and spiritual preparation for Easter. We are to deprive ourselves of something we hold dear in recognition of the ultimate sacrifice Christ made for us on the cross—His life for ours. We are also to share in the suffering and self-sacrifice He endured during those long 40 days spent in the desert depriving Himself of any form of sustenance (Luke 4:2, Matthew 4:2). That is the origin of the Lenten tradition of commemorating our Lord’s suffering and sacrifice with a forty day period of fasting.
We get several perspectives on this practice of fasting from the Bible. It can be practiced for a variety of reasons, but it’s usually interpreted as a complete abstinence from food from morning until evening as a means of seeking the Lord through reflection and prayer (Daniel 9:3). Fasting is observed on the Day of Atonement as an expression of sorrow and repentance for sin (Leviticus 16:29-30). Fasting and prayers are also used to petition for God’s intervention. David’s fasting and prayers were a plea for God to spare the life of his child (2 Samuel 12:15-17.22).
I must admit that I don’t always observe the season of Lent. Not having grown up observing this religious tradition, it often passes by without my giving it the consideration it deserves. It will be half over before I overhear it discussed in other’s conversations or someone asks me that inevitable question, “What are you giving up for Lent?” Then rather embarrassed about my laxity, I’ll commit, rather late in the season, to deprive myself of something that I would normally enjoy indulging in.
I don’t pretend to have the willpower to fast completely for 40 straight days like our Lord Jesus. However, I have often committed to fasting for one or two days a week during Lent, allowing myself only the conventional small evening meal—meatless if it happens to be a Friday. Although for several years now I’ve been mainly a vegetarian, so perhaps I shouldn’t really count the latter as a sacrifice. Although Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are supposed to be full fast days, I confess they are not always ones I’ve managed to strictly observe. Nevertheless, fasting does seem to have become my usual form of sacrifice for Lent.
One other Lenten sacrifice I’ve occasionally observed is giving up all fast food for the duration. I attempted that one last year but lost the battle mid-April during a visit to A&W with the grandchildren. Sweets and deserts are another indulgence that I’ve managed to successfully sacrifice—with the exception of chocolate. I have also considered sacrificing my morning coffee for Lent, but have so far failed miserably to develop the degree of self-control that requires. I suppose if I tried a little harder, I could come up with more cravings or desires that I might forgo to remind myself to focus more on prayer and spiritual matters during this period of penitential preparation for Easter.
Recently, I read about someone choosing to give up all forms of social media for the duration of Lent. I thought that sounded like a great idea at first, until I realized that I don’t actually engage often with social media. So, I guess I couldn’t really count that as a meaningful sacrifice. As Bob Jones mentioned in his blog, I’ve also considered giving up TV watching for Lent. But I haven’t yet mustered up the fortitude required to give up my favourites—the movie channels and various news programs on CNN, CBC, CTV, BBC, CNBC . . . umm, better make that my addictions!
But perhaps the best suggestion I’ve read for observing Lent is to put the focus on others rather than on ourselves. This form of “fasting” would involve sacrificing our time and talents to undertake such things as working towards remediating the injustices of hunger and homelessness, offering help and healing to those in need, donating clothing to a thrift shop, or making amends for any wrongs or sins we’ve committed.
Whatever form of fasting we choose to observe for Lent, Jesus reminds us that our fasting is not to be a viewed as a prideful exercise of show and tell (Matthew 6:16-18). Rather it is a time for us to pray, to ponder our sins, and to turn to God in genuine repentance.
What form of fasting will you practice this Lenten season?