Lent is meant to be a somber season. We remember Jesus’ humanity as we fully experience our own. We study the disciples’ disappointing attempts at faithfulness and find their story written in us. We take one step closer to comprehending Jesus’ sacrifice as we try - and often fail – to make sacrifices ourselves. When we arrive at the day of Resurrection, we can feel its full joy after having known some of its cost.
So we fast for Lent. We give things up. This is a part of our reflection and learning. We learn the spiritual discipline of doing without, of making the choice not to give ourselves something we want. Our culture and environment don’t prepare us well for these kinds of decisions. We also, more importantly, learn about our own failure and God’s abundant grace. We practice the crucial disciplines of confession, of acknowledging our own mistakes and perceiving our need for God’s forgiveness.
There are a lot of reasons we fail to keep our fast. Peer pressure is one. It would be ungrateful of me, after all, not to enjoy that funnel cake my husband sweetly bought me. As I ingest the fried dough and powdered sugar, I think how easy it is to stray from the path just to go along with the tide.
Brain chemistry isn’t always on our side, either. Sugar is addictive. Its strength is that it has a greater hold on me than I am aware of. It finds its way into my body when I am stressed or tired or bored or any other number of reasons. When I imagine that my own will power alone will be adequate, or that by myself and without God’s help I can follow the path laid out for me, I open myself to bigger missteps, worse stumbles than I might have had if my eyes were really open.
We fail out of a fear of loss. As I was contemplating the delicious box of Valentines Day candy that my dear husband – who clearly wants a cuddly wife – presented to me, I felt a strange queasy sense of panic at the thought of losing the opportunity that had been given. Was I reacting to some strange evolutionary instinct of self-preservation or am I just way too hooked on chocolate?
There are countless reasons that we might break a Lenten fast. Every single one teaches us a lesson about our own humanity. We would do well to pay attention. Breaking a fast isn’t a sin. Giving something up is a self-imposed discipline, a choice that we make to further our own spiritual good. Failure isn’t the breaking of a commandment, but a stumble that gives us a better chance to learn the terrain and secure our footing.
The Lenten fast shouldn’t become an idol. It isn’t an end in itself. While we shouldn’t intentionally try to mess up, the goal isn’t perfection either; only the perfecting of hearts in love, a process known in Wesleyan circles as sanctification.
Work on a fast in this season. Whether you think you will do it well or poorly, take on the challenge and learn the lessons it will teach. Whether you give something up, or take something on, whether it requires a lot of your time or a little, when Easter arrives, you will be all the more ready to celebrate.
May this recipe not break your fast.
Blueberry Muffins2 eggs ½ cup shortening
1 c. sugar 2 c.s.r. flour
1 c. milk 1 c. blueberries
Mix together. I use the paper muffin cups in my muffin pan. Bake until brown. – Joyce Bass