During Lent every year I take a hiatus from Facebook and other social media outlets (minus my blog). But just before leaving this year I noticed a number of posts from Protestant friends taking Lent to task for being a corruption of the faith, for being some form of “works righteousness.”
I have also received push-back from those I see on a regular basis who, when they find out I’m on the fast, mention how fasting doesn’t make sense, or how they are free from such “religious” constraints.
Since I have a few minutes at my disposal today I wanted to post just a short clarification as to what Lent is suppose to accomplish for the participant.
I’m not sure where the rumor started that Lenten celebrators view salvation as somehow contingent on fasting. A coffee shop barista just informed me (literally 10 minutes ago) that he is free from guilt and doesn’t need to fast (he was a little upset with me because I turned down his offer to include cream cheese with my bagel, and I’m pretty sure he thought that I thought the cream cheese would send me to hell).
God bless him.
He asked me why Orthodox Christians fast dairy during Lent, but I knew from prior exchanges with him over the years that it didn’t matter what I said back. He just wanted an opportunity to tease me (its fair game, I tease him regularly).
I gave him a good one-line response and he just turned his face upward and cackled, “I can do whatever I want, I don’t care.”
He makes a good Americano, so, whatever.
This is a good example of what many Orthodox, Catholics, etc., encounter during the Lenten season. And I get it. I use to be on the other side of the fence as a Charismatic Evangelical staring in at those who subjected themselves to such practices with wonder and pity.
But now being on the inside of the practice staring out provides a completely different view. On the outside Lent appears troubling. Why would someone accept such self-denial, in an age where love of self is the measure of health? Why would people deny themselves such random things (meat, dairy, wine, oil, etc) in the hopes of being liked by God, in an age where God is as accessible as a phone app and His acceptance axiomatic to being a good person (or, in hyper-grace terms: “just believing in Him.”)?
Why Lent? Why fast?
Lent is not a practice for those afraid of going to hell, but rather those afraid of the prison of self.
Fasting is a way of making the body a slave to the spirit rather than the spirit a slave to the body.
Fasting helps a Christian to understand his or her baptismal vows.
The Lenten season is training in how to block out distractions and silence the mind and body in the direction of eternity.
Lent is the glorious anticipation of our resurrected Lord and the resurrection of His saints.
Fasting tethers the mind to life in the spirit and exposes the transitory nature of this present age.
Sure, much more could be said from an academic, historical, theological view, but none of that really factors in for the one fully engaged in the daily grind of Lent (and it is a grind). It is the same sort of joy athletes experience during rigorous workouts, knowing what strength the strain and endurance is building deep within them. Kinda, sorta, like that.
Thanks for reading. Happy fasting!