Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of a 40 day period of fasting that many Christians practice called Lent. Lent has been around since the early days of Christianity, even though it is not mentioned in the Bible. Early followers of Jesus wanted a period of time to fast and pray in preparation for Easter- so that their hearts and minds would be especially focused on God when celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. 40 days is a big number in the Bible (the Flood story, the Temptation in the Wilderness etc.) so it became a part of early Christian practice to fast and pray in a special way for 40 days before Easter…….hence the tradition of Lent.
Fasting is a part of just about every spiritual tradition in the world. Jews fast on Yom Kippur. Muslims fast on Ramadan. Hindus fast on various sacred days of the month. I could go on and on. Fasting has a long spiritual history and is almost always combined with specific prayers. It is believed by many that fasting from certain physical luxuries trains one’s heart and mind to focus more closely on God (or whatever one calls the Creator being who is higher than oneself).
Growing up Catholic, we were always encouraged to “give something up for Lent”. I never heard it called fasting until I became an adult and began my passionate study of religious practices. It wasn’t really explained to me why we were supposed to “give something up” during Lent, so, for a while, I stopped doing it. When I became serious again about my spiritual practice (in my 20’s in the Episcopal Church) , I picked it up again. By then, I had studied the WHY behind fasting- and also the history. Basically, I’m not going to do anything unless I understand the history and reasons for doing it. Fasting made sense to me, when it was explained as a way to move away from material comforts that draw us away from depending on God.
I have a LONG history of using material comforts as a distraction from focusing on the deeper spiritual realities of life. All of us do really. Whether you use shopping, or gambling, or games on your phone, or snacking, or martinis, or gossip. There are many, many worldly comforts that tempt us away from thinking about the deeper realities of life. That keep us away from being truly present in life. That keep us from being thankful for exactly where we are in the NOW. Busyness is a big one for me. So is technology. I have already started a bit of a fast by barring electronics from my bedroom a few weeks ago.
So last week I started to ask the God of my understanding what I needed to fast from during Lent. There is a lot to choose from for me. I have a lot of “isms”. The answer came a few days ago……
And it was most definitely NOT the answer I wanted to hear. Since moving into our own place in July, the shopping bug has slowly creeped back into my life. In the beginning, it was a necessity. We had sold or donated most of what we owned in the purging and sale of my family home. I didn’t even own a toilet brush when we moved in here. Or sheets. Or plates. Or curtains. Or a bed. So I needed to shop. It was OK. Now, however, we are all set up. Comfy and cozy. There is not a thing I need in this life, thanks be to God.
And still, I shop.
Target has become my happy place. On Friday, I went in there for three things: batteries, sanitary pads and band aids. One chai latte and sixty minutes later, I came out with a full cart and $200 spent. NOT. GOOD.
So, I am fasting from shopping during Lent. To focus on the fact that I already HAVE ENOUGH. To focus on the fact that God has gifted me with massive amounts of blessings that cost nothing. To help me to be content in ALL circumstances- whether in plenty or in want (thanks Paul!). The only shopping allowed for the next 40 days is grocery shopping.
See you later Target.
I will miss you……….
But maybe not.