I remember the first time I thought about giving up something for Lent. It was in Hollywood. I was sitting outside around the community table at our apartment complex. As a few of us were kicking around ideas, someone sarcastically suggested for me to give up church. Not to be outdone, I jokingly replied, “Maybe I’ll give up the Ten Commandments instead.” Because of this silly conversation, I began to see Lent differently.
Of course I didn’t give up all Ten Commandments, instead I chose one: Thou shalt not kill. After all, even I could go 40 days without killing someone (and trust me, it’s not as easy as you might think.). Because I knew I was not going to actually kill someone physically per se, I up’d the challenge to include killing people’s dreams, wishes, ideas, hopes, joys, opinions, life and or fashion choices, and so on.
On Ash Wednesday I headed off to church to receive my ashes. With a smudgy black cross on my forehead the world could rest assure that they were safe around me. But by lunch I had already failed. I had killed…not once, but twice.
For the next 40 days I would fight the urge not to kill. And every day I would fail. My mind, my mouth, my heart were all guilty of crushing and annihilating everyone around me. What made it worse was it seemed like second nature. I was doing it without really thinking about it. Who knew a subconscious could be so evil and dangerous?
Had it not been for the fast I am not sure I would have recognized my negative behavior. Because of my failure to keep my Lenten promise, I began to notice I was also succeeding at seeing the error of my way. By the end of Lent, I was catching myself in the act and seeking new ways to reverse my actions.
In short, I was turning my failure into spiritual growth by focusing on not what I was doing wrong, but on what I could do to make it right. Every year since that strange experiment began I fast from something by feasting on the opposite, i.e. fast from judgment and feast on acceptance (which by the way was harder than not killing.).
By taking a different direction I discovered a new joy for Lent. It became a fun way to work towards being more Christlike. By failing at my fast, I am able to better understand where my shortcomings are, and discover new ways to overcome them. By setting the bar so ridiculously high, I now rely more on God than myself.
Before Jesus began his ministry, the Spirit led him out to the wilderness where he fasted for 40 days and nights from food but feasted on Scripture (c.f. Matthew 4:1-11). As a result Jesus overcame the Tempter and walked righteous with God.
This is just one reason why I would encourage you to try a “Fast From – Feast On” for Lent. Instead of sacrificing chocolate or beer (or both) for 40 days, build up your spiritual muscles by fasting from something negative and feasting on something positive. It’s not as hard as you might think, because the more you fail the more you succeed!
Prayer for Lent:
Blessed Lord God, help me to see this season of Lent as a time of spiritual renewal, rather than a time of deprivation. Motivate me to reach a new level of experiencing your grace. Through Jesus Christ, Amen.