Lent has always seemed to me to be like a spiritual fitness program, a disciplined 6 weeks of working out to get our soul back in shape. As a child it was not a welcome time, in fact I dreaded it. Thankfully, we were taught that there was a day of reprieve every Sunday. One did NOT have to fast or “give up” on Sundays. So as I got a little older, I put a box on my dresser where I put any candy or treats accrued during the week for joyful consumption on Sunday.
Over the years, however, I grew to appreciate the gift of this sacred season. Yes it IS the spiritual spa season, a time to tone up those spiritual muscles and strengthen the sagging desires for holiness that might have fallen by the wayside. For that reason, we have a long tradition of fasting in Lent, which made it not a popular season. However, God spoke to us about that –back in the Old Testament, questioning the harsh rules and practices of penance. “Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance? This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those unjustly bound, setting free the oppressed, sharing your bread….” (Isaiah 58: 5-7). If we read this Scripture, God shines a light on what real fasting is, revealing its blessed effects on those around us.
So, I’m thinking this year about fasting from the OUTSIDE and fasting from the INSIDE. I’m seeing OUTSIDE fasting as that which may “starve” the body, but actually feed the ego! I see that there were years when I was proud or pleased with how much I gave up, or how dearly I loved what I was giving up, or how diligently I persevered in my heroic efforts. I remember a retreat speaker saying one time that some people make an idol of their spiritual life. It can be a subtle way to make the ego feel quite self-satisfied if we have an admirable Lenten practice. (“Oh no, I can’t have that—I’m giving up ALL sweets for Lent!”)
INSIDE fasting is the kind that does not feed ego at all!!! Because it’s quiet and hidden—the ego has nothing to really show for our efforts. But the Soul silently and simply keeps vigil with the sacred by deep internal acts of fasting that increase the light within and without.
Here are some fasting suggestions; see if one fits.
- Fasting from judging others, or even harder—myself.
- Fasting from caring what others think.
- Fasting from perfectionism, the harsh demands I make on others or myself.
- Fasting from worry, relaxing into trust.
- Fasting from complaining when I have way more than most.
- Fasting from indifference when I am too self-absorbed.
- Fasting from judging others as better than me—envying what they have or do—OR judging others as less than, lower than, less entitled than myself.
Think about what causes your internal suffering, or fills the space of your mind and heart, crowding out any room for the peace and deep compassion of God’s presence. Perhaps this Lent there is a fasting—from the INSIDE—that would strengthen your soul and release God’s love to the world around you!