I know it’s not popular in our health-conscious times, but I’m just gonna’ lay it out there. I like fast food. I do. Really. I like the grease and the salt and the cheap over-processed redundancy of it all. I know, I know, cholesterol and sodium and transfats, blah, blah, blah. I get it. I do. I’m just sayin’, give me a choice between shopping-cooking-cleaning and driving down the street to Taco Bell, I’m going with Taco Bell every time.
Which is going to make this Lent very interesting at the Casa de Jorge. Because we’ve decided our family will give up fast food for Lent. Yep, we’re going on a 40 day fast food fast.
While giving up things for Lent still carries some weight in the liturgical Churches (Orthodox, Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist), Fasting as a spiritual discipline has almost disappeared. Which is odd, because what do we think we’re doing when we give up something for Lent?
Fasting is not just for super-Christian weirdos. Fasting is a spiritual discipline Jesus intends us to practice. Fasting is so normative to Jesus that he never even instructs his followers to fast. He simply assumes they will. “When you fast,” he says (Mt 6:16-17). When, not if.
So what is fasting? In its most basic form, fasting means simply to refrain from food for spiritual reasons. In Scripture, fasting consists of giving up all nutrition, including food and drink, except for water. Today, we might talk of “fasting” from any number of things: a particular food or beverage, a favorite restaurant, electronics, or even social media. While some might argue that true fasting encompasses only food or drink, I think the reason for fasting is more important than the what.
Richard Foster states, in his life-altering book Celebration of Discipline, “More than any other Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us” (p 55). You see, we accumulate things and practices in our lives which shield us from the reality of spiritual situation. You think you’re a nice person? Try not eating for 24 hours and see how nice you are. You give thanks you’re not an addict? Drink nothing but water for a few days and see how you feel. Certain you, of all people, are not consumed by Facebook? Put your account on hold for a week. Go on, I dare ya’. Fasting is like stripping away layers of clothing from your soul. Good or bad, we all look different naked.
But fasting is not just about stripping away. Fasting is also about adding something. If you have a big tree stump in your backyard and you finally pull it up and haul it away, you’re left with a gaping, ugly hole. Well, that hole is going to be filled with something — rainwater, kids’ toys, weeds. Unless and until you decide to fill it with something else. The key to fasting is filling the hole with God.
If you dig a hole in your life by not eating for a day, don’t just sit there whiny and complaining. Every time you feel a hunger pang, fill that hole with prayer. Pray for people who don’t have enough food, give thanks for the food you do have, ask God to help you control your body instead of letting your body control you. If you strip away lunch each day for a week, then fill that lunch hour with Bible study. Go online, bring your Bible to work, meet with a friend. Don’t just sit at your desk feeling sorry for yourself. If you dig a hole in your life by cutting out Facebook, fill that hole with acts of service. Spend your Facebook time caring for your family, doing a favor for a friend or reaching out to a neighbor.
In many ways, it doesn’t matter what kind of fast you take. Fast from food for a day. Fast from eating lunch for a week. Fast from listening to talk radio for a month. Fast from fast food for Lent. Just fast. Dig a hole in the days of your life, and fill that hole with God.
— Foster, Richard J.. Celebration of Discipline. Harper San Francisco, 1978.