A significant part of our Lenten journey is through prayer and fasting — the things we take on and the things we will choose to sacrifice over the next forty days. Today’s scripture readings are all about fasting, but they are also an important reminder that there is a right way and a wrong way to do anything.
The last few weeks have probably involved us spending some time thinking about what we want to “give up” for Lent. There are so many great things to do. We can go big or we can be gentle with ourselves. We can shoot the moon or keep it simple. I’ve seen suggestions for all these approaches — and I like them all!
It’s interesting, however, that in the scriptures today, we see that the approach to fasting and sacrifice is not one of anything goes. In fact, we see in the readings that God has an opinion about our fasting technique and it’s not necessarily “the bigger the better.”
During my freshman year in college, I was very inspired at the start of Lent. My roommate and I sat down and made a list of what we would fast from and it included ALL OF THE THINGS. Bread. Meat. Coca-cola. The radio. If it had brought us any kind of joy at any prior point in our lives, we would fast from it.
Was it a good Lent? Did I grow by leaps and bounds? It’s possible my resolve lasted the entire forty days (though I can’t imagine how!) — but the point was, I don’t ever remember stopping to ask God what he wanted from me. I had figured it out all on my own. It was wonderful and heroic to be so radical for Jesus, but it’s possible Jesus wanted something else from me entirely.
The scriptures for today remind us that the point of prayer and fasting is not to suffer the most. It is for freedom and growth, for ourselves and those around us.
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
As we begin our journey into Lent, it’s not too late to ask God what he wants from us. We may have come up with the best list of what we will give up and take on — but if we haven’t consulted with Jesus, we just might be missing the boat!
Take a few minutes today to invite Jesus to show you if you’re on target for HIS plans for your Lent. He has a plan for each one of us, and when we are in the middle of his will, that is where we find true freedom and joy.
–Rachel Balducci is a columnist for The Southern Cross and a co-host of The Gist, a talk show for women on CatholicTV. But better than all that, she’s married to Paul and they have five wonderful sons and one cherubic daughter. Life is sweet.