One of the central practices during Lent is fasting. Different traditions approach this discipline in different ways, but there is a general consensus that, whatever we choose to give up for Lent, it should be something that matters to us.
For some people that’s a particular type of food: meat, chocolate, coffee, french fries, alcohol, pop [let me translate this for some of you…Cokes :)], etc.
For others, it’s an activity: eating out, going to the movies, smoking, etc.
I love this Ethel Merman quote:
“At one time I smoked, but in 1959 I couldn’t think of anything else to give up for Lent so I stopped-and I haven’t had a cigarette since.”
I don’t think the point is what you choose to fast from…
I think the point is what you put in its place.
Fasting isn’t about being noticed or seeking attention. Jesus makes that clear in ‘The Sermon on the Mount‘. True fasting isn’t about impressing God and trying to make him notice us. Fasting is about noticing God more. It’s about realizing that our cravings do not have to master us. When we crave what we are fasting from, it creates an opportunity for us to fill that craving with God–be that through meditation, prayer, scripture, or serving others.
In Isaiah 58v3-10 God speaks these words through the prophet:
“Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord ?Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” [TNIV]