Fasting resists our society’s expectations about efficiency and instant gratification.
Several days after the dinner party, I was still thinking about the perfect disk of salami I’d wanted to eat—and didn’t. As I write this, several days later, it is still Lent, and I am still craving the meat I’ve sworn off these 40 days.
When Ash Wednesday arrived a couple of weeks ago, I was in the mood for renunciation. seemed a good and right thing. Time, however, threshed my willpower from spiritual endurance. Never has the book of Numbers—providentially scheduled in my Bible reading plan for the Lenten season—spoken with such force: “If only we had meat to eat!” (Num. 11:4).
Lenten fasting is hard, though not for all the reasons I’ve expected. It’s not just my immoderate appetite for food that has been checked these 40 days, even if I persist in pining for that slice of salami. Perhaps even more importantly, what’s been exposed is my disordered relationship with time. I want the quick fix of transformation. I do not want the slow burn of 40 days of prayer and persistence and reliance on grace.
In his book Fasting, Scot McKnight reminds us that fasting is not instrumental. It is not a season of giving up food in order to get blessing from God. There are many reasons Christians throughout the centuries have committed to the practice of fasting.
Augustine saw the benefit of denying ourselves “licit” pleasures in order to grow our capacity for denying “illicit” ones. In the Middle Ages, Gregory the Great believed fasting could check our patterns of eating “too daintily, too sumptuously, too hastily, too greedily, too much.” Even more-contemporary Christian thinkers, like the late Dallas Willard, have emphasized the connection …