I’m not fasting for Lent this year.

There, I said it.
It’s not like I believe it’s a Christian requirement that I fast during Lent, though sometimes I add that burden to myself. But I love the church calendar; I love following along with believers around the world in our readings and our disciplines; and I love the feeling I get when I finish fasting.
There, I did it.
So in the days before Ash Wednesday, as the specter of the season of wilderness wandering loomed large before me, I tried and tried to figure out what I should fast from. What had a hold of my heart that was keeping me from loving Jesus more?

With my self-imposed dietary restrictions, I’ve already eliminated meat and sweets and a host of other foods. And if I’m not carefully consuming calories throughout the day, I feel the crampy discomfort of hunger. Eliminating more food from my diet didn’t seem safe.
I do watch TV occasionally, but more often than not, TV is interfering with my sleep time rather than my time with the Lord. So, I determined I should turn off the TV and sleep more, but it’s not a Lenten fast.
Facebook is part of my job with The High Calling; I’m regularly behind on email; reading is something I know I should more of, not less.
So, as I sat in the Ash Wednesday service at a church not my own, I prayed that the Lord would show me what it is that he wants me to abstain from during the 40 days of Lent.
His answer? I needed to fast from fasting.

Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
will not make your voice to be heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the Lord?
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Isaiah 58:4-7

I have read this passage before, and I have heard others quote it during Lent as the reason they are not fasting, and I have quietly thought that a person could be fasting in both ways. And I think I have been quietly right.
But this year, even as the ashes of mourning became smudged on my forehead, I realized there was no place in my heart this year for a self-designed fast. My weary, proud heart could not take it. Either I would fail and sense judgment that wasn’t from the Lord. Or I would succeed and feel an approval that was equally self-centered.
No, this year, I needed to fast from the fasting I am used to.
But not from fasting altogether. Not really. God doesn’t says he is opposed to fasting in general in this passage from Isaiah. He says he is opposed to self-approved fasting, but not the fasting that takes a person out of herself and gives her the courage to stand up for others.
So, during this season of repentance, I am trying something a little different. Rather than a fast of abstention, I am looking for ways to serve others, especially those who can’t serve me back. So far, all that I have done is collect a meager food supply to send to a local food bank. But Good Friday and Easter are still a few weeks away, and there is plenty of need to go around in my mid-sized Midwestern city. I’m eager to see what opportunities Jesus brings.
Lent doesn’t feel the same without the daily reminder of fasting. I have to trust the Lord, not my activity, to keep my heart soft and turned toward Him and others.
And I think that’s exactly what He wants.
There, He’s doing it.
Photo by qmnonic, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.