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To Fast or Not to Fast

Posted by Bethany Nelson on

Every year during Lent, I seem to have a conversation with someone about fasting. Usually the conversation starts with a question. Am I supposed to fast during Lent? Why do people fast during Lent? Or something like that. I explain that though fasting is not necessarily a Presbyterian discipline, they are certainly welcome to try the practice of fasting during the Lenten season if that is something that draws them closer to God.

I have chosen to not practice fasting during Lent for the last several years. I have a hard time figuring out how foregoing chocolate, for example, fits into my spiritual journey. I find that other disciplines are more meaningful for me during the Lenten season. Others, however, have told me that fasting has been very important for them. It helps them remember Jesus' fast during his 40 days in the wilderness. Or it helps them be more aware of life's blessings. Or it helps them move towards self-examination and repentance.

I appreciate how a spiritual practice that is not very meaningful for one person ca be quite moving for another. Or, how a practice that was not helpful for me several years ago might now be an important part of my spiritual life. This year, therefore, I have been considering fasting for Lent. I am not going to give up a specific food item, but I am going to work on giving up some other things. I have found inspiration in a poem from John Chrysostom, a Christian leader in the late 4th century. He writes - 

  • Let the hands fast, by being free of avarice.
  • Let the feet fast, by ceasing to run after sin.
  • Let the eyes fast by disciplining them not to glare at that which is sinful.
  • Let the ear fast, by not listening to evil talk and gossip.
  • Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism.
  • For what good is it if we abstain from birds and fishes, but bite and devour our brothers?

As I consider my relationships and my interactions with others, there are definitely things that I can give up this Lenten season. Things I say or think that are unkind. Things I assume that are untrue. Judgments I make without knowing all the facts. What might it be like to fast from those things this Lent?

However you decide to walk your Lenten journey this year, may it be a blessed season for you.

Blessings, Bethany

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