Friday, February 24, 2012

Not on my own, not really

At the Ash Wednesday service this week, Tom and I shared a bit about our fasting from excess journey so far. Tom shared about how we we're moved to start FFE. His words were lovely, and I hope he will agree to share them as a post here. I spoke a bit more off the cuff, and shared 3 simple stories that illustrate the baby steps in our learning. It was difficult, as you might imagine, to distill these first weeks into something that was honest and not too heady to sound relatable.

One of the stories that I shared was the one about two inner dialogs from the day before we started our first month of food fasting. It was all about how ridiculously selfish I can be, and how that selfishness sneaks up unawares even with the best intentions. I realized the morning after Ash Wednesday that I overlooked a big message about fasting with that particular story. The message? I can't do it on my own, not really.

I've been circling around that truth, and it wasn't until I was talking with a friend the next morning (who had been at the service the evening before) that I was really able to articulate it clearly. My friend was relating a story about how her daughter was discerning what to fast from during Lent. She decided to fast from something that was personal to her, and had a certain level of aspiration and challenge with it. My friend and I talked about how, with fasting, it is tempting to hold yourself to a level of perfection that makes it about you and mastering your own will, rather than relying on God to give you the strength to persevere and the grace to cover slips.

That's when it came together in a clear way for me. Fasting is not about me mastering and dominating my own willful habits. The first time I fasted, years and years ago, I totally didn't get that. Tom and I have chuckled that we thought fasting was more or less deciding not to eat for a day, like it was the act of not eating that was the end in itself. Unless and until I look at fasting as a means to a greater end, an end that can only be experienced in relationship with the Lord, I am not really fasting. Self-denial as an act of my will alone might be disciplined, and it might be done with the best intentions, but it is missing the point. I can only truly fast, from whatever I will experience as "sacrificed" for a time, when I turn to my Savior for communion and share fellowship in His suffering. His suffering. Not my own temporary discomfort.

Philippians 3:10 says: I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

I referred to this version in an earlier post because I was led to it when I first fasted quite a few years ago. The words "participation in his suffering" are also also translated as "fellowship in his suffering". The idea of being in fellowship with Christ in his suffering really jumped out at me all those years ago. In the context of fasting, denying myself for the sake of Christ -- and thereby participating in His suffering -- is a way to become more Christ-like. That I definitely can't do on my own.

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