In this article:
- Why Christians consider fasting during Lent
- Spiritual practices for a meaningful Lent
“I’m giving up being nice to my siblings for Lent,” a youth student declared emphatically.
“Well, if she can give up being nice, I’m going to give up doing homework,” another chimed in.
“Ooooh, I’m gonna tell my parents that I’m giving up chores for Lent because the church said it’s a good thing to do.”
That’s when I knew that I had incredibly messed up. For years, we talked about giving things up for the Lenten Season but I realized I never really talked about the “why” of the seasonal fasting.
At best, it was treated like a short diet plan: “no chocolate” or “no soda” or “no coffee”.
And at worst (and this moment with my youth kids was as bad as it could get), fasting became a scapegoat to not do things you should be doing.
One of the reasons why we give things up for Lent is to sit with our hunger. For the majority of us reading this, we often don’t allow ourselves to sit with our hunger. We don’t need to. In fact, we complain when our hunger isn’t satiated in a timely manner. Everything is seemingly readily and quickly accessible. And the hunger I talk about goes beyond just food. We get annoyed when there’s a slight lag in the videos we’re watching on our phone. Amazon’s Prime 2-day delivery sometimes doesn’t seem quick enough. We get a little agitated when we mobile ordered our Starbucks while 5 minutes out and it’s still not ready when we arrive to pick it up.
So the Lent season offers us an opportunity to sit with our hungers. We give something up to learn what the hunger reveals about us. What is the hunger beneath the hunger?
And who or what or where is God when I am hungry for something I desire?
Is it God the Creator that will sate this hunger?
Or is it money? Fame and popularity? Relationships?
Practicing the Hunger
What is your hunger teaching you about yourself and your dependence on God?
Here are some Lenten practices I have engaged in throughout my life that help reveal things about myself and God.
SilenceThis Lent, I set aside 15 minutes of being in silence daily.
It’s really easy for me to be silent (a side effect of being an introvert). However, not having any intentional noise around me has been a lot more difficult than I anticipated. I often would spend the first 15 minutes of a walk without music in my ears and without talking. After a few minutes, I felt the urge to talk to myself out loud just to add some other noise around me. Why is it so difficult to be in silence? So far, the biggest thing this short period of intentional silence has taught me is to be aware of God’s presence. Sometimes, I focus on so much of my output that I may miss the input from God. Being still and silent helps me to edge closer to hear the still, small voice of God.
Sometimes I’ve fasted from meals. Other times certain medias. There are times where I’ve abstained from particular foods, like coffee. This was the easiest to discern what the fast was teaching me: Christians don’t live on (bread) alone — fill in whatever your context is within the parentheses.
During the season I gave up coffee and that caffeine headache came roaring in, it really made me question if I was more dependent on coffee or on prayer. (Why can’t it be both…?) The physical hunger pangs made it easier to be reminded that, ultimately, my dependence is in God; that I’m made whole only in and through God.
Most Lenten seasons, I like “adding” a discipline rather than taking something away from my life/plate. Some seasons, I add intentional times of prayer. It’s similar to taking time for silence, but noise is involved.
Instead of scrolling mindlessly through social media or watching something on TV -- like I normally would do in that time of space -- I turn it towards prayer. This intentional time of prayer reminded me that I don’t need to be “entertained” every waking moment of my life. It helped me re-center myself and be reminded of what actually are the priorities of my life. But most importantly, it taught me that I am not god — God is God.
Intentional and Random Acts of Kindness
Last year, I set out to bless someone (anyone) every day. Michael Frost in Surprise the World described blessing someone as “adding strength to one’s arm”. This means leaving someone slightly better than when we first encountered them; helping them breathe just a little bit better.
So I decided to be a small blessing in people’s day. Take a friend out to lunch; pay for a stranger’s coffee; put my neighbors trash bins back after trash was collected; send encouraging and affirming letters; anything and everything. It was a practice of embodying Mother Teresa’s quote: “do small things with great love.” I mean, what is one of the surest way to show my love for God? To love my neighbor. The biggest takeaway from that season was I can always afford to be generous.
What are some of the revelations you are discovering in your Lenten disciplines this year?
Joseph Yoo is the author When the Saints Go Flying in. He is a West Coaster at heart contently living in Houston, Texas with his wife and son. He serves at Mosaic Church in Houston. Find more of his writing at josephyoo.com.