This week we asked our bloggers what they had learned from spiritual practices and disciples. This is how they responded.
In Matthew 6:16-18 Jesus says, “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting… But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret.” At the risk of disobeying Jesus’ words in this passage, I share with you my Lenten practice of fasting, which I tried a couple of years ago.
I’m not a huge fan of giving something up for Lent. I have often encouraged congregations not to give something up, but instead, to take on something new for this season. That year, I was actively dodging questions about what I was going to give up and kept wondering what a good spiritual practice for the season would be. In the nick of time, I came across a blog post that discussed getting back to the basics of Lent. The author said those basics were simple: prayer, fasting and giving alms. I pray and my husband and I give a tithe out of our income. But the only time I had fasted was for a youth group fundraiser in high school. I had never thought much about fasting as a spiritual practice. Or maybe I had relegated it to an ancient art reserved for holy people. Fasting is an ancient practice, but it’s one that Christians have long regarded as important and useful to their relationship with God. So I decided to give it a try.
I chose to fast on Mondays throughout Lent. That meant not eating anything and drinking only water from Sunday night until either late Monday night or Tuesday morning. As most spiritual practices go, I had my ups and downs. I broke the fast a bit early several times. During my church’s week of hosting a warming shelter, I missed my fasting day. Some days it felt OK not to be eating, but other days were tough. On the spiritual side of things, I didn’t spend much more time in prayer. I simply tried to use my fasting days for awareness. As I paid attention to my stomach, I felt a sort of emptiness, like there was more free space in my body. When I started to feel hungry, I tried to remind myself that God could fill me up, too.
More than anything, I kept thinking about people for whom fasting is not a free choice. There are so many who don’t have enough food in their cupboards to make a meal, so they skip it or let their kids eat instead. Not to mention children who get their only real meals each day at school. At the warming shelter, I also wondered whether our guests might have been fasting since breakfast and how they were feeling by evening.
Those thoughts in themselves didn’t make me any more holy. But I think they did draw me closer to God. I believe God spends a lot of time mourning those very situations and hoping that we humans will find a way to fix them. For me, fasting opened up a new way to experience faith in my body and I’m grateful what I learned during the Lenten experiment. And maybe this spiritual practice ticks the box of both giving something up and taking on something new!
EMMA NICKEL serves as stated supply pastor of Ebenezer Presbyterian Church in Greensburg, Kentucky. She is passionate about small church ministry, cooking and playing with her cat, Scout.