what i learned from this year's Lenten fast
Observing Lent is a new thing for this low-class, evangelical Protestant. It's a novelty to me. I didn't grow up with it. The most suffering I ever did before Easter was a sunrise service I was brought to as a child. However, a few years ago I started experimenting with Lent. One year I abstained from meat and I didn't resume it for a year and a half, instead of 6 1/2 weeks. Another year I abstained from alcohol for Lent. But this year, after reading McKnight's book on Fasting, see the book report, I started practicing the twice-weekly fasts. Wednesdays and Fridays, of the ancient church, referred to as early as the Didache, see that book report. McKnight wrote about the difference between abstention and fasting. Physically, I agree there's no pain like hunger. Abstaining from chocolate or beer is an abstention from pleasure, but fasting is a journey into pain.
I wanted to fast for Lent to remind myself, just a tiny bit, of the suffering of Jesus for my salvation. As he journeyed into pain, knowing his torture and execution awaited him, I sought a journey into a little bit of pain as well.
The twice weekly fasts I practice throughout the year are breakfast and lunch free, but dinner is included. I'm not beholden to any tradition, because I come from one without such traditions, so I'm learning by doing. I figured I could do a 40 day fast when I learned more about what was expected, and not eating for 40 days straight is not expected. I learned from the Roman Catholics that skipping two meals a day, 5 or 6 days a week, is expected. I ate 3 meals a day on the weekends, and dinner on the weekdays. I didn't drink any alcohol for all of Lent. That was an abstention from pleasure. There was no suffering involved in that aspect. Going meatless is expected as well, but I didn't do that. I did get hungry so in the evenings I ate too much GORP (with chocolate chips and craisins). I still maintained my bicycle commuting.
Physically, I was hungry and I did suffer a bit. Whenever I felt whingy I thought of the Haitians I worked with last year, who would work all day with only one meal in their stomachs from the night before. I did keep some sugar in my bloodstream: a cup of OJ in the morning, a packet of sugar in my tea at lunch, and a hot cocoa or gatorade before my bike ride home. The first week was hard and the last week was really hard. By the fifth week, I thought I had fully adapted. I wasn't suffering much. My body was adapting to the new normal, but in the last week, it was tired of adapting. At the end of it, I had lost 10 pounds, about a pound and a half a week. It's nice to eat breakfast again. It's nice to have some lunch. It's still not easy for those twice weekly fasts. Hunger is so primal. Skipping Facebook or Budweiser for Lent are certainly good things, but let me tell you, from one clueless guy to another, fasting from food is so different.
Spiritually, I don't know what happened. I don't think my prayers worked better. I don't think I read the Bible with new eyes. I do think I learned a little bit more about my Savior's suffering for me. Maybe I do understand Paul's metaphor of a soldier better. He tells Timothy, 3 Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 And as Christ's soldier, do not let yourself become tied up in the affairs of this life, for then you cannot satisfy the one who has enlisted you in his army. 2 Timothy 2. In his letter to the Corinthian church he uses the metaphor of an athlete, 25 All athletes practice strict self-control. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. 26 So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I am not like a boxer who misses his punches. 27 I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9. I will journey into suffering by running ever longer distances that I might participate in a race here on earth. Seeking out suffering by fasting is something Jesus expected. This Lent was a good way for me to embrace that.
I encourage every disciple of Jesus to begin the journey of fasting. Skip a meal once a week. Make it a habit. In a year, I'll see if I'm still in the habit of fasting twice a week. I'll see if I'm a better "athlete" or "soldier" than I am right now. I don't expect to receive a cape falling out of heaven for me to wear, nor do I expect a TV healing ministry, but I hope for less entanglement with the three weeds of all humanity, according to the Apostle John, lust, materialism and pride, which he speaks of more poetically in his first letter, For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 1 John 2:16.