Lent is traditionally known as a time of prayer and fasting, a time reflecting on Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, where Christians give something up to provide extra time and space to concentrate on God. For many 21st century Christians, and I count myself among them, fasting is not part of their spiritual life. In the past I have made the token gesture of deciding to give up chocolate or cake; in a society where we are surrounded by such luxuries (there is always cake in our office!) it can be a challenge and a good discipline but I’m not that sure it ever brought me any closer to God. It might be different for you, but I’m sure my motives were more about losing a few kilos rather than spiritual in nature.
I find giving up food difficult, mainly because I am a foodie, but also because I get headaches if I don’t eat frequently. Perhaps giving up a meal each day would allow me more time to spend with God. If I also gave up eating out I could give extra money to charity. Call it an excuse if you want but I decided this year that I was not going to give up food for Lent (although I’m sure I would benefit from a little less excess).
I’ve often heard people say that giving something up is negative and they are going to do something extra, something positive for Lent, like giving to charity or spending more time in bible reading. There is certainly nothing wrong with starting new positive habits and charities need all the support they can get, so its a great idea. For me this year in Lent I wanted to do something positive and spend more time in silence, escaping the seemingly never-ending rush of life, being still with God.
However, to do this required ‘finding time’. I needed to give up something to ‘find’ that time to make a real difference to my spiritual life, in the hope that the habit started for 40 days would become lifelong. This Lent has been about slowly changing my lifestyle so that I am able to get a better balance in my life. I’m trying to limit my excessive ‘work’ time to provide more time for family, friends and stillness, trying to take a few minutes each day in silence (not just those moments on the loo) to sit and be with God, to be mindful, appreciate the beauty around me and to thank God for all He provides.
Books that have been helpful in this include Stephen Cherry’s book ‘Beyond Busyness – Time Wisdom for Ministry’. I’ve learned the difference between time management and time wisdom and have used various tools he suggests for making wise decisions about how I spend my time. It’s a must read for workaholics and anyone in ministry.
The other book that has inspired me has been Mary C. Earle’s book ‘The Desert Mothers – Practical Spiritual Wisdom for Every Day’.
She writes, “When we fast (whether it be from food or noise or busyness or buying too much), our fast is not only for our own health and deepening love; it is offered for the life of the world. When we fast from mean-spirited conversation and from the need to be always in control and think ourselves to be right, we are allowing open space in which God’s healing silence can bring forth something new, if we give it time and care. When we fast from hurry and frenetic, non-stop rushing, we not only allow the distended stress of our bodies and souls to heal. We also practice one of the most subversive acts in this society: rest in God, trusting that God’s own recreating and restoring grace will be sufficient for the tasks at hand. We put aside the addictive behaviour of working as if everything depended on our own efforts, and allow real questions to surface…..the questions are an essential part of discovering who you are and who you were called to be.”
I don’t know about you but I so relate to this passage. Up until now my life has centred around doing…..now I’m trying to balance the doing and the being. Who are you and what has God called you to be? My food for thought this Lent!