Over the years I have given up many different things for Lent. There was the usual chocolate, ice cream, or Carmel deLites. (Funny how the Girl Scout cookies always show up right around Lent.)
Then I got more creative in my denials. I gave up the radio in the car, which made for some very long rides home to Chicago. I gave up watching Oprah on TV. Yes, I admit that was my guilty late afternoon pleasure. That added a long hour in the After School-Before Dinner abyss.
And then there was the time I gave up mascara for Lent. I don’t wear a lot of makeup but since about 1972 I rarely have left the house without it. In the rare occasions when I did, I inevitably got comments like “Are you feeling ok?” or “You look tired, are you ok?” Forty days of that was too much. That was a one and done. I never did that again. Come Easter Sunday I looked like Tammy Faye Bakker.
For as long as I can remember I have followed the tradition of giving up something for Lent. I learned that it was suppose to teach us discipline and allow us to experience some degree of suffering which helped us connect with Jesus during this time when we focus on his suffering for us. Along with prayer, penance, and almsgiving, fasting was what Lent was all about.
I’ve had that understanding of the traditions of Lent my whole life, but yesterday another dimension was added to that understanding.
Marilyn Malcolm, the author of The Disciple’s Wife, is facilitating a book discussion on her book at Firstfruits this Lent. During our discussion yesterday, she shared an insight into the purpose of fasting that we all found fascinating.
When we fast from physical things we are to do it out of love for Jesus. So, when we are tempted to eat that chocolate, turn on the radio, watch the TV show, or apply the mascara, we are to deny ourselves and in that moment of temptation tell Jesus that we will deny ourselves because of love for him. Let that motivate the action, or lack of action in this case. As we do that more and more Jesus will fill that void we feel with his love for us to the point that we no longer feel we are sacrificing. It becomes easy.
As it becomes easier to deny physical things, it allows us to dare to fast from deeper, more spiritual things. We can apply the same discipline to things like fear, anxiety, anger, loneliness, self–pity. When we are tempted to give in to anxious thoughts or fears for example, we turn to Jesus and tell him we aren’t going to worry or fear because we love him and let Jesus fill our thoughts instead with his love until it becomes easier and easier to not have the thoughts in the first place. It takes a lot of trust and that is what comes from repeatedly denying ourselves out of love for Jesus.
I like this concept of fasting out of love, not out of a sense of obligation. And the promise that Jesus is right there waiting to fill the void with his love. Another “coming home” moment to ponder this Lent.
Long have I waited
for your coming home
to me and living deeply
our new life.