Every Lent he followed a strenuous discipline of prayer and fasting, eating very little. He considered this sacrifice to be so little in comparison to all Jesus did for us. His children, however, dreaded this season because, beset by hunger pains, he was irritable and cranky all Lent.
The woman had just lost her baby. Her husband had brought in some fried chicken and mashed potatoes as a treat for his bereaved wife. As I tried to find words of comfort, my nostrils were overwhelmed by the delicious odors and my stomach growled. I was completely unable to make a caring connection with this couple and left after a few minutes, leaving them to their lunch as I sought out my own. Thus I learned that when I’m hungry, I’m not that effective as a minister.
We are not our best self when hungry or tired. God wants us to be our best in all we do. Fasting is a wonderful, spiritual discipline, but if fasting leaves you irritable and cranky, maybe it’s not the right option for you.
We are closing out these forty days with the celebration of Holy Week. After forty days in the desert, when Jesus was weak from fasting, the devil chose to tempt him, hoping to prevail because Jesus was in a weakened state. The liturgies of Holy Week are some of the most powerful and spiritually demanding of the whole year. We relive the final hours of Jesus time on this earth. If we come into this week weakened rather than strengthened by our Lenten observances, we may not be able to enter fully into these celebrations.
Sometimes, the greatest discipline is not to fast from food, but to eat in a healthy manner that nourishes our bodies rather than deplete our resources. Sometimes it’s easier to give up something entirely than to exercise responsible eating. That is why food addictions can be so difficult to overcome. You cannot give up food entirely the way you can give up alcohol.
If our spiritual disciplines leave us cranky, then we are missing the point. We are to grow spiritually, which means growing in love of God and others. If our discipline has not helped us to be more loving, caring individuals, then we have missed out on the benefits of Lent.
Has your Lenten disciplines helped you grow in love of God and others? If not, why not? What change do you need to make?
Are you ready for the celebrations of Holy Week?