I admit to having a bit of trouble with the practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent. I don’t really find it much of a sacrifice. As a child I remember when my brother, Ted, came upon me savoring a tuna fish sandwich on a Friday afternoon. An avid steak-lover who had reached an age in which he had to adhere to the Lenten rules, he was appalled at my choice. Nonetheless, the roast beef sitting in the fridge had little appeal for me.
Over the years, the fasting I find meaningful has shifted. It’s also become more challenging. Fasting from negativity and judgment of others. Abstaining from self-righteousness and pity parties. These intentional fasts for the soul start, like most Lenten practices, with good intent. They become trickier as the weeks wear on or I come across a trigger that sets them off track. It’s much easier to forgo a hamburger.
This year, in addition to traditional Lenten fasting, I am abstaining from anxiety. With a pressing number of writing deadlines looming and other projects cluttering my desk, I find myself wakeful at 2:00 a.m. trying to figure out how to balance all of it. There are my children, both of whom are adjusting to new locations and finding the search for employment disheartening and demoralizing. Abstaining from the urge to fly to their immediate aid takes some doing. And then, of course, there is the strife in the Ukraine, global warming, and any number of disturbing news stories, making the anxiety list never-ending. I came across a great quote by the late, great Erma Bombeck the other day. “Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but won’t get you anywhere.” I draw upon the image each time I slip into nail-biting mode. It draws to mind another wonderful reminder; “…Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (Matthew 6:27)
The point of fasting as a spiritual practice is not to simply “offer it up”. It is also to find deeper union with God in the sacrifice. The self-emptying that comes with the practice opens space within us for something richer and ultimately more important. “…Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) In this light, I hope my fast from anxiety will not only provide a decent night’s sleep, but also a lovelier vision of all God is doing for me, my family, and the entire world.
Find reflections on the traditional Lenten practices and share them in your home or parish.