You may have noticed people walking around yesterday with black marks on their foreheads. That’s because yesterday was Ash Wednesday…and also the beginning of Lent.
What is Lent, anyway? Well, Lent is a Christian thing that begins on Ash Wednesday, and goes 40 days until Easter. Ash Wednesday is always on Wednesday, is 40 days before Easter Sunday, and the ashes used, which are smeared onto our foreheads, are from the burning of the palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday. (Still with me?)
Miriam Webster defines "Lent", if I understand correctly, as "Spring" or "Springtime", which "includes a time of penitence and fasting, and is dated back to the 13th Century". So no, Lent is not something that was practiced by the early church, nor is it in the Bible, nor something that Jesus told His followers to do, so you're not doomed to Hell if you don't fast from something for these 40 days. Yet, it is a good spiritual discipline.
So what is this fasting time about, and from what shall we fast? Many choose something like chocolate or pop (soda). But they just diet from the certain food for 40 days and tell everybody it's for Lent, they don't replace it with a spiritual discipline. Some choose to fast from Television, and replace it with reading a book, or for youth, doing their homework instead. And though reading is a nice habit for replacing TV, unless it's the Bible they're reading I don't see how it becomes a spiritual discipline.
Fasting is mentioned all throughout the Bible, and though it is most often associated with fasting from food, there are other things to fast from. Numbers 6 (Old Testament), for instance, tells us about the voluntary vow of the Nazarite, which included fasting from anything off the vine (grapes, wine, grape juice, etc.), no shaving or haircuts, and staying away from dead bodies (I'm sure the last one would be the easiest). But the whole point was “to separate themselves unto the LORD” for a determined amount of time, and during these days of separation, the person is to be "holy unto the LORD”. So refraining from junk food for the body is good, but if there is no health food for the spirit, then how is one "holy unto the Lord"?
A few years back, I discovered more on this when I decided to fast from lunch and replace my lunch breaks with prayer. Such was great for my spiritual journey, for my prayer time was more constant, as well as longer, but it also took a toll on my health, for I lost a lot of weight, which also lowered my immune system, and also caused some migraines. So a few years later, I decided to try something different…I fasted from worrying and stress. Basically, the idea is to strip away anything that blocks you from having a right, healthy, and/or strong relationship with God, and at that time, I was so stressed out and worrying about something that it gave me chest pains. So since Jesus told us not to worry about anything, but instead to put our faith and focus onto Him, I fasted from worrying and did just that - put my faith and focus onto Him. And I'm glad I did because I experienced a great spiritual journey during my fast, which continued even past the 40 days time.
Nobody said fasting would be easy. But then if it was, then it wouldn't be a very good spiritual discipline, would it?
So you don't HAVE to fast during Lent, but if you WANT to fast from something this Lent, then think of something that is preventing or hindering your spiritual walk, and replace it with something that will strengthen your relationship with Jesus Christ. And who knows? After 40 days, you may realize you prefer this practice, and decide to continue with it, versus returning to that from which you were fasting.
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