So yesterday I began to work through some ideas on sacrifice which started with a few comments from around the web. Br. Jesse Alexander says, “Fasting is meant to teach us to say no to good things, so that when we do come up against bad things and sins we are practiced at saying no.” At first glance, I’m not sure this is really true for me. Honestly, there are enough bad things in my life, in my history, and affecting those I love that I don’t feel the need to “practice” dealing with bad things.
And anyway, I don’t think of fasting this way. To me fasting produces true empathy for those without enough to eat. It is even heightened by giving the food I would have eaten to those who are hungry. Br. Jesse’s definition sounds less like my view of fasting and more like self denial to me. And self denial is something I certainly need to practice as I am a middle class American white woman who has many things just handed to me without any effort on my part.
Exercising self denial during Lent could definitely change the way I love God and my neighbors. Saying no to bad habits is hard. So practicing self denial could help to ground me in my relationships with those who are different from me. It would also help me get better at saying no to things that are bad for me, for others, and for the environment.
What would self denial look like for you?
A friend of mine posted this article on Facebook a few days ago. It talks about the practice of giving something up for Lent. Some call this fasting, some call it abstaining, some call it sacrifice, and some use those words to mean very specific things within their tradition. In the article, Phil suggests giving up some bad habits that prevent us from fully loving each other. Things like gossip, bitterness, and self pity.
One of the comments on this article comes from Br. Jesse Alexander and says, “Some of the things on the list are sins (gossip and pride, for example) Christians do NOT fast from sins. We are called to just stop sinning. You can’t or shouldn’t fast from sin. Fasting is meant to teach us to say no to good things, so that when we do come up against bad things and sins we are practiced at saying no.”
This got me thinking about sin, fasting, and sacrifice. I’m not Roman Catholic so I don’t feel particularly bound to define these terms the way that tradition does. The way I understand sin best is that sin is something that gets in the way of the fullest expression of God’s good creation whether or not that is within me, or something I do to others, or something done on my behalf. Sacrifice is about giving up something or taking on something that I would rather not but feel called to do for God and God’s people. Giving up something for Lent falls in this category. (Fasting is about food and I have enough issues with food so I don’t even go there.)
So if I have a bad habit I struggle with that prevents the fullest expression of God’s good creation and I want to sacrifice an extra amount of time and brainspace to change that habit during Lent, all the better. Yes, it’s sin and, yes, it’s sacrifice. I don’t know about you but I’m not capable of “just stop sinning.” I believe deciding to spend my time during Lent focusing on one specific bad habit is, not only a valid sacrifice, but a devotional one God desires.
Have you thought about what giving up something for God means to you?