No, I don’t mean summer. According to the Liturgical Calendar, we just entered a season of the year commonly called Lent. If you’re not familiar with the Liturgical Calendar, you can look it some useful information here. Its seasons are based on events in scripture, celebrated at various times of the year. Lent is the 40 day period preceding Holy Week: Palm Sunday, Passover, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday – the days leading up to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Lent is generally considered to be a time of reflection, fasting, and preparation for Holy Week.
During Lent, many people find fasting to be helpful in re-focusing themselves on God. Some people give up certain kinds of food, or food during certain times of the day or week. Others give up something else entirely: certain kinds of media, habits, luxuries, or distractions for a set period of time. The time usually spent on such activities is then spent in prayer instead, or perhaps the felt absence of whatever is being sacrificed (e.g. hunger pangs or the urge to check your facebook again)is used as a reminder to pray.
Helen and I often make it a point to observe Lent, and it has always been a wonderfully eye-opening experience. Somehow God uses the silence made by sacrifice to speak to us in important and timely ways. Sometimes we fast from something as a couple, or each find a personal idol to give up. In any case, it always proves to be a fruitful (if difficult) experience.
Fasting cannot be done out of compulsion, just because it’s a tradition, or to assuage guilt. That’s not the kind of heart God desires. But if you are interested in doing as fast this season, here are five tips:
1) Pick something you’ll miss, but could still live without.
If you fast from something so small you won’t notice its gone, you’ll not get much our of your fast. Likewise, if you sacrifice something you can’t do without (like your phone, the internet, or solid food) you’ll probably bomb your fast and just end up feeling guilty. Pick something in the middle: TV in the evening, dessert, your iPod, etc.
2) Don’t fill the gaps left by your fast with something else.
If you sacrifice 2 hours of TV, don’t watch a movie instead. Don’t give up nachos and take up corn dogs. The point is to fill that gap with prayer and scripture, not just another similar habit.
3) Set a time frame
Lent lasts for 40 days (not including Sundays). Do you want to fast that whole time? Is that realistic? Sometimes it’s better to start small (say, a week) and increase the timeframe if it’s going well. If after a week you need to re-evaluate your fast, that’s OK. There’s no set of rules for this, it’s just personal between you and God.
4) Don’t make sacrifices that might affect others negatively.
If your spouse looks forward to a weekly movie night, don’t sacrifice movies without talking it over first. Ideally, no one need know you’re fasting except you. It should be personal, subtle even. Remember what Jesus said about fasting in Matthew 6:16-18. Likewise, don’t impose a fast on your family. A family fast could be a great thing, but it needs to be mutually agreed upon. Remember, God cares about the heart, not just the actions.
5) Don’t turn a fast into an exercise in legalism.
If you slip up and forget about your fast, it’s not the end of the world. God is gracious, he lets us confess, get back up, and start again. If it makes your more dependant on him, then your fast is working!
May God bless you and your family during this season!