Lenten Fast

March 16th, 2014 Posted in writing

Our modern culture tries to get us to mistake wants for needs, and we can easily go from wanting something to believing we have to have it. (And, of course, advertising tries to convince us that their particular product is just the right thing to satisfy our wants-become-needs.) How might the traditional Lenten practice of fasting help us? I suggest it helps on two fronts.

First, it reminds us that wants and needs are, in fact, not the same. Forty-plus years ago an author named E. F. Schumacher wrote the book Small Is Beautiful, in which he proposed that our goal shouldn’t be to have all the things we want, but, rather, to learn what things are truly necessary and be content with those. I’ve found it helpful to ask myself if something I want is really something I need, and also to stay alert to see if my list of needs keeps getting progressively longer until the line between wants and needs becomes blurred. Fasting, at its root, involves going against our inclination to want more than we need or more than is good for us.

Second, fasting can help us realize that even when we know our needs, we must realize that some needs are more important than others. At the beginning of Lent we hear the story of Jesus’ encounter with the devil, who told Jesus to turn stones into life-sustaining bread. But Jesus answered that we don’t live by bread alone but “by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Later in his ministry, Jesus also said that we should present our needs to God but “seek first the kingdom of God” and all other things will be given besides. No matter what else we need, then, our most important need is for God and his Kingdom.

So the fasting that we do in Lent can certainly be about giving up things like dessert or tobacco or fast food. But it’s truly about reminding us to value the things that genuinely matter and then to put first things first.

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