Ash Wednesday, Fasting, and Failure

It seems that, every year, Lent sneaks up on me while I’m not paying attention. Today, I remarked to a friend, “Is it just me, or did Ash Wednesday come up way too fast this year?” She assured me that the issue was on my end, and she’s right.

In any regard, I always wake up on Ash Wednesday and feel led to fast from something. Why? Probably because I’ve never succeeded in doing so in the past, and I recognize that an appropriately-focused effort—one centered on the reasons for fasting and not the act itself!—will allow for the self-discipline in such matters to be found from within. Ah me.

16“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Matthew 6:16-18, English Standard Version [emphasis mine]

Last year, I was fairly effective in the fasting I undertook, mainly because no one knew about it. Five years ago, I attempted fasting from all food during daylight hours—which was easy to do until friends started trying to arrange lunch and early dinner plans, and I had to let folks know what was up. Once it became a subject of conversation, well, it was like talking about a no-hitter on the bench or someone at a hockey game breathing the “shutout” word—the mere mention blew things up.

In any regard, I think that Jesus’s exhortation as written above is wise, for this reason: when we fast and it becomes public knowledge, the fasting stops being about preparation, sacrifice, and penitence and enters the realm of public piety. It is at this point at which we quickly become as the Pharisees do.

So, gentle reader, I urge you to consider Christ’s words here, echoed by me: if you’re going to fast from something for the Lenten season, keep it between you and God. I’m not quite convinced that fasting stores up treasures in heaven, but I am convinced that it can put us in the proper frame of mind for doing good works in Christ’s name and through His ability, which certainly does.

May God bless us all as we enter the Lenten season and welcome the pain and anguish of Christ’s death and rebirth as foretold by the prophets.

3 comments

  1. I see two sides to this. On one hand, you are perfectly correct. I have done 24 hour fasts in the past, and they have been somewhat socially awkward. Do I lie? (Sorry… I need to work through lunch today) Do I tell the truth? (I’m on a 24 hour fast)

    This year, with what I’m doing, I’m more looking for accountability… it’s something that historically I’m very poor at, and I’m trying to get better, so I’m not keeping quiet about it.

    Though I will miss the runs to Waffle House at 11:55 PM with the friends I was fasting with…

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