To answer the question posed in the headline: HECK NO! But having said that…
What am I going to “give up” for Lent? Chocolate? Weekly viewing of The Bachelor? Social media? The question of giving up something arises in my mind every time the penitential season approaches.
But why is this even a question?
It goes back to the idea of “shrove” (think Shrove Tuesday) … or “shrive” … or “scrape” … Lent can help us rid ourselves of things that become barriers between us and God, so that we can come into closer contact with the God revealed to us in Jesus the Christ. The churchy word for this is “fast”.
The Book of Common Prayer states that the two fast days on the Episcopal liturgical calendar are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In addition, there are days Episcopalians should observe with special acts of discipline and self-denial. Here’s what we find on page 17 of the BCP:
“Ash Wednesday and the other weekdays of Lent and of Holy Week, except the feast of the Annunciation … Good Friday and all other Fridays of the year, in commemoration of the Lord’s crucifixion, except for Fridays in the Christmas and Easter seasons, and any Feasts of our Lord which occur on Friday.”
So, how does fasting work?
If you’re new to fasting, please take it slowly. In fact, let’s make it basic for 2017.
For example, I love chocolate… in moderation! Well, since I believe chocolate is a gift from God, I love it in large doses… but I’m trying to make myself look good. As far as I’m concerned, Heaven will be host to an endless supply of Twix, Kit Kats, Hostess Ding Dongs, and more. But I digress.
Let’s say that now, here on earth, I supplement my diet with two chocolate treats daily… then two becomes three… three becomes four… and so on. I take something into my life that, in and of itself, is good… but, over the long term, I give “chocolate” precedence over “food with actual nutritional value”.
Might we take particular areas of our life that are “good” and give them a place that should be reserved only for God?
Continuing with the analogy…. for Lent, I could give up “chocolate treats” on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and every Friday in Lent… AND, in their place, pray one of the Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families in the Prayer Book (pages 137 thru 140). Plus, I’d take the money I’d spend on the “chocolate” and place it in the offering plate on Sunday.
This, again, is a basic… if not trivial… example of fasting. Does it need to be pointed out that fasting is not limited to food? Once we get the hang of it, the spiritual discipline can be expanded. But if this is new to you, then please start simple.
And I think you get the idea. Fasting is all about putting Jesus back at the center of our lives.