The time is upon us when Christians all over the world will join together in a communal fast for 40 days leading up to Easter. Lent is observed in one form or another by the vast majority of of Christians around the world. The disciplines of Lent are taken from Matthew 6:

  1. Prayer
  2. Fasting
  3. Almsgiving (Acts of mercy/love)

Most observers, however, associate Lent primarily with fasting. “What are you giving up for Lent?” they may ask. It’s an appropriate question.

Fasting is simply going without something for a period of time. We fast every night after our last meal of the day. We break the fast with the first meal of the morning, hence the name: breakfast. Going without speaking for a time is a kind of fast. Going without alcoholmwat, or sweets for a time is a kind of fast. The Bible talks about many kinds of fasts. Almost every major biblical character fast. Fasting is mentioned so often, it is surprising that fasting is not a faith practice in every Christian tradition.

Fasting is not a method for working your way to God. It will not win you any sort of celestial brownie points. It does not make one morally superior. Practicing fasting is simply a way of recognizing that there are things that get in the way of our spiritual lives. During Lent and other times of fasting we acknowledge all the things that draw us from love of God and neighbor. We turn away from the god of the belly. We pay attention to the fact that materialism could be a hindrance to our spiritual moral development.

A spiritually centered life generally does not require more, of anything. In fact, it often requires less of a number of things. The surest course to an encounter with the divine is self-emptying. This is why Jesus immediately went into a 40-day fast in the wilderness after his baptism. This is why Paul went into Arabia. God cannot fill what is already full. To fully embrace another, we must be willing to drop what is in our hands.

It has been en vogue recently to say something to the effect of, “I’m not going to give up anything this year. I’m going to take something on.” This can also be a helpful spiritual practice. Recommitting to a daily prayer practice,  and giving to a worthy cause are valuable disciplines. They are not, however, fasting. How will you know what to take on? Piling more on an overly cluttered life may not get you where you want to go. First empty yourself through prayer and fasting and see where the Spirit leads.

So what’s cluttering your life these days? What’s getting in the way of your fullest love of God and neighbor. Welcome to Lent. Join the fast.