It’s a funny thing, Lent. We all know we are supposed to give something up, do something good, pray more, give more, and fast. Some of these things might come easily to us. Others, not so much. One that is personally hard for me is fasting. In previous years I would be excited if I was pregnant or nursing – no fasting, got around that one again! This year I do have a nursing baby, but I chose to fast anyway because of a conversation I had regarding its practice.
It was right before Ash Wednesday when I was speaking with this person. We were talking about Lenten activities and they mentioned that they don’t fast because “Well it’s hard and when I fast I get cranky and irritated at people more quickly, so I just don’t do it.” Given my attitude toward fasting, I was surprised that my initial reaction was to disagree: “That’s why we do it. It’s HARD! And denying ourselves helps us to recognize our dependence on God rather than the material world.” At which point I was rather ashamed at my behavior the past few years.
The Truth About Lent
Is that it’s not supposed to be easy. So much of what our culture tells us today is that if it feels good, do it. If it tastes good, eat it. If it makes you happy, regardless of expense or consequence, do it. Fasting and self-denial aren’t easy. There is a reason why Jesus has to explain to his followers how to fast well:
When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting….But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to others to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you. (Matthew 6:16-18)
This can be applied to whatever we are giving up for Lent. I went through a phase where it was easier to do something rather than give them up. I tried to convince myself that doing something positive was somehow better than not doing something else. I know that there are many people who use Lent as an opportunity to increase their spiritual practices and works of mercy. This wonderful and I do not mean to discourage it. However, I don’t think it should replace the practice of self-denial.
Nothing can replace the action of saying No to yourself. I think that is the biggest lesson I have learned. Self-denial is not inaction, it is not passive. Acts of fasting and self-denial mean choosing the harder path for yourself and no one can do it for you.
So if you are feeling discouraged in your Lenten practice, take heart! If it’s hard, it probably means it’s good for you and is helping you to grow in your relationship with God, even if you can’t see how just yet.