I’ve heard a lot of people say in recent years about Lent: I’m not going to give anything up. I’m going to do something good instead. I’m all for doing good things, and Lent can be a time to focus on how we can do more good and love people more than we usually practice. But I do wonder about our reticence to talk about giving things up, to talk about fasting.
If we assume fasting is about self-denial in order to make us more religious or faithful, then yeah, let’s not do that. But I think we are missing something deeply important about the gift of life when we don’t find times and places (Lent or otherwise) to practice fasting in one form or another. We are missing out on true feasting.
Fasting teaches us two major things: To discern what our true hunger is for, and then to experience and appreciate more than we ever could what it is to feast.
Let’s face it: We feast all the time, nearly 24 hours a day. Instant food, fast food, abundant food, industrialized food. We have every food of every season all the time. We rarely go without anything we desire, and when we do, it seems to upset us to an unreasonable degree. We’re out of peanut butter?!?!?? No coffee !?!! What do you mean you don’t have anymore chicken nuggets and I’ll have to wait 10 minutes??!?!
We feast so much we rarely actually enjoy it at the deep, spiritual, community creating, love inducing, soul filling level that God intended all feasts to be for us. And this is why fasting is an ancient, valued, much needed discipline. Not because of what we give up. But because of how much we return to the feast renewed, transformed, filled with gratitude, taste buds awakened, stomachs satisfied, hearts enriched, love nourished, and God connected.
Sometimes you gotta get a little hungry to appreciate the dinner. Sometimes you gotta go without in order for the smells and flavors and satiating pleasure to be awakened. We fast so we might again fully and with exuberant joy feast with one another and with God in Christ on this rich life we have been given.