I’m fasting for Lent. It’s a strange level of discipline and practice for me, and it marks a season when my Christianity is being lived more ‘out-loud’ than it has been in many, many years – perhaps ever. It really started on Ash Wednesday, when I wore ashes; arriving at work on a day when an important meeting with my board leadership and a VIP partner was scheduled, with a large black smudge on my already generous forehead. My employees were shocked and surprised. My assistant challenged my choice by noting the meeting – and when I simply nodded and told her “I know.”, she looked concerned – but also went to her desk and searched for our church website, saying ‘I just wanted to make sure you weren’t changing.’
I am changing. Not in the way that she worried I was – but I am.
She didn’t know that I’d been ‘stretched’ by Pastor Wendy, who when I couldn’t choose between having ashes on my hand (subtle) or forehead (decidedly not) and uttered ‘dealers choice’ knew exactly the reach I needed to make.
She didn’t know I took several deep breaths before choosing to get those ashes at 7 a.m., or that I left initially contemplating wiping them away. But next year, I hope I can ask for them on my head myself. Because I am changing.
Lenten fasting has become an opportunity for me to think about how I’m changing and what it is to be walking in a new, deeper faith. Jesus walked the desert for 40 days, fasting and being protected by angels, knowing his time suffering on earth was about to crescendo in a manner unthinkable to me. In all honesty, even when I was trying to explore and know my Christian faith in the past, I had given this time of suffering very little thought. The humanity of Jesus, and the simultaneous divine – wild animals and angels all at once – and hunger. I cannot recreate the rest, of course, but the hunger – the fasting – gives me a chance to pause and consider it all. If only for brief moments during the day, fasting is a chance to learn how I am changing, how I’m being changed by the divinity of a sacrifice I am not worthy of.
So, fasting is my imperfect choice. I’ve been challenged by the notion that my fast is selfish. That it is emblematic of my privilege as a white woman, a middle-class woman, a woman with access to resources. I am not serving others through the fast.
This is all true. This action is my internal exploration of a way to connect with God. In that the fast is for me alone to grow as a Christian, I concede that my fasting is selfish. It is certainly part of the privilege I have now – one that I have not always had in my life – that today, I can choose when to feel hungry and that hunger isn’t any longer forced on me. I recognized the privilege to use this particular method to explore my relationship with Jesus and with God, I am grateful for it, and I continuously explore the edges of it.
Elizabeth Gilbert wrote of struggling with meditation in her book, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. She couldn’t settle her mind, a state of being I strongly relate to. After 3 months of struggling with feeling like she wasn’t however she should ‘be’ while meditating, Gilbert has this realization: ‘God dwells in me, as me.’ I just love that. It settles me. I’m fasting so that I can find the God that dwells in me – as me. That God isn’t looking for me to practice Lent in any other way except my way is overwhelming and lovely and calming, and swirls around my head like the ashes did that Ash Wednesday.
There are more days left of Lent than have passed. I haven’t been perfect in my own rules. And yet, I feel the change. Keeping close to Jesus reminds me to do my part, my way, to come to selfishly know God, so he can dwell in me, as me. That I get to feel that kind of love – that kind of Love – for the price of a bit of hunger; Yes, I’m changing; I’m changed. How could I not be?