Shrove Tuesday or pancake day usually takes a little while to recover from. After the crazy tour of local shops to try and find some eggs, there is the frantic search for the lemon juice in the cupboard which you are sure is still there from last year. The failed flipping followed by overdoing the sugar on top of the pancakes means a holiday is required to recover. This is mirrored in the excessive chocolate eating that can occur on Easter Sunday if unsupervised children or adults have their way. Their is a certain irony in the fact that Lent then is a time of fasting, book-ended by two events usually associated with over indulgence!
Fasting is associated with the giving up of or abstinence from a certain type of food or drink. For Catholics, it traditionally is no meat on Fridays; for everyone else, it is chocolate. However for those in the know, there is always the “Sunday is not included” clause which has helped many a suffering faster. To deny yourself food on religious grounds is common among many religions due to many reasons and Jesus fasting in the desert is one of these. After His baptism, Jesus goes into the desert for forty days to prepare for His earthly ministry, which is where Lent draws its inspiration from. During this time He is tempted three times; the first of which is food related.
Without the amenities of a town, the devil encourages Jesus to turn the stones into bread to satisfy His hunger. A simple and sensible suggestion; trying to do anything whilst hungry is incredibly difficult. Ask anyone who has dieted. However Jesus refuses, saying man does not live on bread alone, suggesting there must be more that is required to live on. People often diet for health reasons or body image; they place these objectives as a higher priority over the pleasure that is achieved from eating nice food. Fasting is therefore not supposed to be a torture or sadistic; it is there to remind us that something is more important.
When we feel the desire for what we are fasting from, it allows us to focus on what is really important. It reminds us that life is made up of more than what we eat. The children’s film Under The Hedge sees a street wise raccoon explaining to other animals that humans worship food using such examples as watching programmes about it, to exercising in order to eat more of it, to meeting others just to eat it! Sometimes it can feel like this and fasting can be a way of breaking this cycle, allowing us to be grateful for the blessing of having too much and inspiring us to help those who have less. Therefore fasting should lead to charitable giving; our denial becomes our gift to another. .
If we do not live on bread alone, are there other things we try to solely live on, other things that are our top priority? Doing a quick check of your phone battery usage can be very revealing; the amount of hours spent on Facebook, Whatsapp or Snapchat is surprising. Hence, fasting can be saying that these other time filling activities are not our top priority and that there is more to life. By denying ourselves time in these areas, we will have more time to give to others, more time to hear the word of God. Fasting from doing is just as valuable as abstinence from food, it allows us more space to hear, to love and to feel. How often do we complain of not having time to spend with those we love? Yet there is so much time; it is our priorities that should be the source of our complaints.
Lent provides the opportunity to fast and get our priorities straight; it can be seen as a spiritual spring clean. The clutter of those things that choke our time can be swept away allowing the time to be given as a gift to those we love. To give something up means to take something on, one is not done without the other, something smokers who have tried to quit will testify too. Jesus said we do not live on bread alone but on every word from the mouth of God. Maybe we should try to clear some time to hear these words and allow this diet to be one that changes our lives permanently.