Without fail, the Lenten season sneaks up on me every year. I always find myself scrambling at the last minute to decide on the most meaningful way for me to participate, and I usually fail miserably somewhere in between days 5 and 10. I grew up in a Christian tradition that did not observe Lent, and I had never even heard of the 40-day period of fasting until I was in high school! As a non-Catholic, non-Orthodox, and non-Protestant Christian, it is sometimes very hard for me to find a sense of community during these times of the year – and as a result I tended not to participate in Christian rituals like Lent. I didn’t begin seriously trying to observe Lent until about two or three years ago, and even now I partially attend a church that makes no mention of it. It’s no wonder that I’m always caught off guard whenever the season rolls around. Still, I want to make Lent a part of my spiritual practice, and this year I really want to hold myself accountable in observing the season.
Fasting has always been a difficult concept for me. As a child, my church used to hold a fast each Tuesday, and I didn’t get how being hungry and having stale breath all day could bring a person closer to God. As a pre-teen, I converted to Islam and learned that fasting was meant to help build compassion for those who go hungry every day. This made sense to me, and as I got a little older I understood that fasting was about self-denial. Still – every time I fasted it seemed like I was just counting down the minutes until I could eat again – it didn’t improve my spiritual life. By the time I’d returned to Christianity, I had completely given up on the idea of fasting. I was no longer under any requirement to do so, and so I didn’t.
This year, I am going to try to re-embrace the fast by giving up all beverages except water for the next 40 days. I think this is going to be a challenge that is not insurmountable, but also not easy. I am addicted to fruit juice. I love my cran-apple, peach-mango, pomegranate-cherry, and white grape juices. I also enjoy a tasty rum-based drink or margarita every once in awhile, and on rarer occasions when I’m feeling especially in a junk food mood I like to have a red bull with pizza or a burger.
I am hoping for three things this lent (1) not to fail, (2) to get a better understanding of why fasting is important, and (3) to discover how to more clearly hear what God is saying to me. Of course, I’ll be blogging this lenten journey and hopefully will learn something along the way. I’m such an amateur when it comes to fasting! There’s a lot for me to learn.
If you’re observing Lent, what are you giving up or doing differently this year?