Today’s focal passage: Matthew 4:1-11
Let me begin by saying, “I don’t like to fast.”
I don’t like the feeling of being hungry. I get irritable. I get short-tempered. I sometimes get headaches (though, admittedly, this may have more to do with a caffeine addiction than going without food). My wife doesn’t really like it when I fast, either (for all of the above reasons). She often becomes the recipient of my irritability. I guess that shouldn’t surprise me, though. Isn’t that what we do? Isn’t that one of the real temptations of Lent? We want to focus on anything but our own failures, our own short-comings, our own addictions and attachments in this world. We want to put the spotlight on someone else.
I’ll speak for myself, though. Through fasting from food, I come face-to-face with my own struggles in this area. I don’t want to deal with my own unhealthy relationship to food, so I take out my guilt and shame on those closest to me. I don’t want to be confronted with my true self, so I deflect my shame, guilt, anger, etc. onto someone else. The problem is – this is what Lent is all about. It is about holding up the mirror and getting a good look at ourselves, then casting all of that at the foot of the cross of Jesus.
There is a historic connection between the forty days of Lent and the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, being tempted by the devil. As we begin this journey together, I am struck by the fact that the first temptation Jesus faces hits at such a basic level. We all need food to survive. In the book of Genesis, God looked at all that was created in the Garden of Eden (including food) and pronounced it good. Going without this basic necessity causes our body to scream out in protest, “But I need food to survive!” While this is true, there is little danger that my body is going to have serious adverse affects from a little fasting.
What it really gets at is much more telling – what is my relationship to food? Obviously, I eat to fulfill my biological needs for nutrients that fuel my body. But it’s more than that. I eat because I enjoy the taste of food. I eat because of the psychological effect it has on me (can anyone say “comfort food”). I eat because I’m bored sometimes. I eat because it’s the socially acceptable behavior in certain circumstances.
Yes, food can be good, but food can be an idol. While the cravings I feel are, in part, my body telling me that it needs nourishment, it is also my spirit saying, “Don’t take away my god!” (god, not God). It is my self-indulgent spirit saying “gimme, gimme, gimme.” It is also a reminder of how blessed I am. I can go the cabinet, pull out an evening snack, and the hardest choice I’ll have to make is “which one?” It is hard for me wrap my head around what it is like for Tayson, the child we sponsor in Zambia, on a daily basis. I don’t know what it is like to not have adequate resources of daily food and water. It is difficult for me to imagine what it is like to look into my children’s eyes as they beg me for food, knowing that I have none to give them. And yet, this is the reality for many of fellow brothers and sisters around the globe.
So, I’ll say it again, “I don’t like to fast . . . but I need to fast.” I need to hear Jesus speak into my life, “Man does not live on bread alone” to remind me about my sometimes idolatrous relationship with food. But I also need to hear Jesus say, “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat” to remind me about my relationship with others in the world who aren’t nearly as fortunate as I am.
May this Lent be a time for us all to take a long, hard look at our relationship with food.
This blog post is part of a series of reflections for Lent. The passages are based on a booklet Steven wrote for Ecclesia, the church he pastors in Fairview, NC.