Fasting is not my strong suit.
I have done it occasionally, but not at all gracefully. I really enjoy good food and I’ve been known, on occasion, to get a little “hangry” (you know, hungry-angry) if I haven’t properly fueled my body. For many years, however, I have given something up for Lent.
But now, as I reflect on what I’ve given up, only three things come to mind: chocolate, sugar, and coffee. While not particularly profound, I think my choices are pretty standard fare, along with alcohol, maybe smoking, and more recently, taking time away from social media. As we approached Lent this year, I found myself reflecting on the purpose of it all.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus regularly went out into the wilderness. There he would fast and pray. He would open his mind to God’s wisdom and direction.
The early church looked to Jesus’ example and developed a practice of fasting during the 40 days leading up to Easter. This practice has evolved over the years and many Christians now mark Lent by “giving up” a bad habit or distracting practice. This symbolic sacrifice provides us with a space to reflect and refocus, tune-in to our Christian calling, and renew our commitment to God.
But when we give up chocolate or coffee or social media, does it really serve to strengthen our faith or our connection to God?
For me, the answer is a clear “no.” If I’m honest, I’ve treated God more like an accountability partner at the gym, someone who makes sure I show up when my resolve is weak, rather than our magnificent Creator. Sure, I’ve been glad to have established some positive new habits, and it is possible that I’m a moderately healthier person as a result.
But I really don’t think that’s the point.
Last year, I turned the idea on its head and rather than giving something up, I committed to bring more beauty into my life. This was a much more significant exercise than earlier efforts to give something up. I slowed down, drew more pictures, and coloured regularly with my daughter.
Somehow, I feel that my practice got a little closer to how Jesus’ example suggests we approach fasting. I created space outside of the constant motion, the unrelenting mental chatter, to be present in God’s world. By slowing down, I was better able to listen to my kids, my husband, and my friends. I think that maybe I was also able to be just a little more open to the spirit of God in my life.
And that was a good start.
This year, I wanted to take it a step further. I wanted to do something that was about more than just me. I wanted to do something of consequence that would draw me into closer relationship with God and God’s creation.
So, I’ve committed to Give it up for the Earth! I’ve signed my pledge to cut meat from my diet one day each week. I also committed to stay close to home during March Break to avoid aviation emissions. And I’ll give my kids a refresher on the municipal recycling program.
I have also joined my voice with thousands of Canadian Christians. Together, we are calling on the federal government to make policy changes that will move us further and faster towards the Paris climate change goals.
As Christians, God calls us to love and care for all of creation. And so, I am giving it up for the Earth as an expression of gratitude to God for the beauty and wonder of creation. I am giving it up for the Earth in solidarity with Indigenous peoples in Canada and marginalized people around the world. I am giving it up for the Earth in hope for a better future for my children and all children, each one created in God’s image.
In Isaiah 58, the prophet questions the people’s motivation for fasting, saying that some did it to be seen and to serve their own interests.
He encourages instead a different sort of fast: “to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke.”
This is the fast I choose.