Today's topic is fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. Highly personal, I have a hard time writing about these three Lenten practices. Sharing a craft or a recipe is fun, light, with the aim to point you, my dear friends, to the love and saving work of Christ. On the other hand, a discussion on fasting, almsgiving, and prayer can easily become a boastful commentary, ridiculously puffing up my far from perfect family.
Matthew 6 talks about giving, prayer, and fasting - all practices associated with the season of Lent. Even Lutherans sense this, although, if you're anything like me, figuring out how to understand and act on these practices within family life is tricky. We tend to understand prayer and giving, but why fast?
Growing up, fasting was something my Catholic relatives did. We were Lutheran. We ate meat. Unless we were with our Catholic family, and then we ate grilled cheese. Not eating meat on Fridays didn't seem like much of a punishment to me - if that's what it's suppose to be. After all, not being allowed to do something is a punishment, or so I thought. Hence, I figured eating fish must be the punishment. But what if you like fish better than meat? I wondered. Why can you eat fish if you can't eat meat? Chicken doesn't really have blood like beef does, so why not eat chicken? Don't fish have blood? Is eating fish sort of like our Amish friends who can't have a telephone so they install a phone booth across the street? Growing up Lutheran, I just didn't understand fasting.
Yet, Jesus doesn't say "if you fast". Jesus says, "when you fast". (Matthew 6:16) When you fast you're not suppose to look down trodden and weak, whining and moaning about your obligation to fast. This is why I have a difficult time posting about fasting, even though it's something my Lutheran friends are talking about. It's also why I'm not going to post a lot of cute pictures to accompany this post.
First, Jesus suggests that fasting is an activity of Christians, but our salvation is not dependent on meatless Fridays. Salvation was sealed through Christ's death on the cross. Good Friday is the Friday that counts, and the meal that counts is Holy Communion - where we receive His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.
Second, "giving something up for Lent" or fasting isn't something we do for Jesus. He's God. What can we offer that is of any benefit to Him? Jesus is the one who made the sacrifice! Jesus gave Himself up on the cross for our sins. We give up chocolate. Can you really make that comparison with a straight face?
Third, fasting is not an obligation. Fasting is an opportunity. Let me explain and maybe provide a few ideas.
Giving up meat, or another food you're especially fond of enjoying, refocuses your priorities. It's so easy to worship our mammon gut. Likewise it's easy to obsess over ever calorie and micro nutrient. "Giving up" food is good discipline. Sometimes I wonder, as I watch our religious liberties erode, if I would have the discipline to endure true religious oppression, brutality, or even death for the faith.
Think of the time spent planning, shopping, preparing, serving, consuming, then cleaning up each meal! A day of fasting opens up a lot of time. What could you do with that time? Make a meal for a friend in need. Volunteer at a kitchen. Pray. Teach your children a new hymn. Read the Bible together. Fasting resets your schedule.
Think of the expense of your average dinner. Fasting isn't about saving money for the sake of frugality. Add up the cost of the average meal you might skip or lighten up while fasting. What could you do with that money? How could you serve your neighbor? So many worthwhile organizations are hurting and could use even the $10 you saved while fasting for one meal of one day. Fast once a week throughout Lent and watch your giving power grow! Even just giving up eating out or skipping coffee is enough savings to make a difference.
By now maybe you've bought in to the idea of fasting and see how it can lead to prayer and giving, but how does one fast? My generation truly does not know how to fast. It's just not been our practice and culture.
Fasting does not mean not eating. Fasting is not a diet. It can mean skipping a meal at times. It can mean not snacking. It can mean omitting a favorite food from your diet on one particular day or for an extended period of time. It can mean simplifying the meal by serving something light and inexpensive to prepare. Children, and all people really, do need proper nutrition. Fasting is not an exercise in starvation.
Finally, I'll hesitantly tell you what our family is doing this Lenten season, only because I want to share how this can be done, if you choose, even with family of young children. We've found it highly beneficial for the instruction of our children, and far from an obligation, fasting has been a gift to our family. All we do is eat soup. We eat cheap, quick, easy, canned soup. At the beginning of Lent soup was on sale. Adelae and I selected two cans of several varieties. Once a week we pick a soup day and serve soup and crackers, sometimes along with some cheese if there is little protein in the soup selected. That's dinner. Soup is easy to feed young children because all of the veggies and meat are small and soft. We collect the money we would have spent on a regular dinner in a jar, and spent some time talking about where the money will go and why. After dinner, we toss the bowls in the dishwasher then spend time together singing Lenten hymns and talking. It's simple. It's refreshing.
|We've enjoyed using the new CPH children's hymnal, My First Hymnal.|
I truly don't believe fasting is meant to be anything other than refreshing - a reset - an opportunity to pray and share with one another. As Christians we fast because the Holy Spirit has brought us to faith, and through the Lord's Supper He sustains us and leads us to want to do less for ourselves and more for others.