Today is Ash Wednesday, the day when we pastors invite people to church so that we can rub dirt on their foreheads and say the ominous words, You are dust, and to dust you shall return… And, yet, we clergy wonder why people don’t invite us to parties…
Today also kicks off the first day of Lent, the season in which we practice solidarity with Jesus’ time in the desert wilderness as well as the Israelite's forty years camping out across the desert sands. It is a time when we intentionally go without, giving up certain luxuries and pleasures so that we might feel the pangs of having unmet earthly desires. In doing so, we walk by faith, trusting that the God we love and serve is more important that fulfilling our petty mortal cravings. Without taking vows of celibacy, we can all be like ascetic monks for a season.
You might already know what you plan to give up for Lent. If you do, great! However, if you still need ideas for something to give up as your Lenten fast, here are a few:
1. Fast from Social Media
Many people have started doing this over the last few years and I have to say that I am impressed. You probably have seen a friend or two posting a Facebook message around this time of year explaining that they will be unreachable on the social media platform until Easter time so if you need to get a hold of them you should pick up the phone. It probably seems like these people are walking away from the world to go live in a cabin in the woods by themselves. After all, 67% of Americans now report getting at least some of their news on social media instead of from news sites, newspapers, or TV news directly. By withdrawing from the digital world, it is like these people are withdrawing from all contact with the outside world and are embarking on an extended hermitage.
Yet, social media platforms are known to be addictive and disruptive, in no small part because they get us evaluating ourselves by how we are received by others. When we post about our lives, thoughts, feelings, experiences, etc., one’s day can be made or destroyed by the feedback we receive from others – whether it be in the form of ‘likes’ on Facebook, retweets on Twitter, or comments on Instagram. To withdraw from these platforms that keep us looking at ourselves, enables the spiritual practice of looking outward and heavenward in order to focus more on others and our God. Though this will not be my fast this year, I applaud those who take this one on.
2. Fast from Eating Meat
This is the year for me. Traditionally, those in Christian Europe were required by law to give up eating meat during the Lenten season and it was considered a crime of great heresy to break this fast before the appointed time. It is kind of hard to imagine anybody being jailed or fined in America for eating a cheeseburger these days, but there was such a time in Christian history.
I am actually endeavoring to take give up meat this year. It is difficult for me to admit publicly, in the midst of meat-focused Montana, but I will be giving up steaks, sausages, bacon, chicken, buffalo wings, and all other meaty delights that seem to make life worth living. I will update you on how it goes…
3. Fast from Tobacco, Alcohol, and Drugs
People drink, chew, smoke, smoke weed, and do much harder stuff because it makes them feel good. You should really avoid many of these things year-round, but if you haven’t, now is as good of a time to start as any. In addition to giving these things up for your physical and mental well-being, you can do so during Lent for spiritual reasons.
As a homebrewer and beer lover, I will also endeavor to fast from the frothy goodness. Lent is a sober time and it really should be a season of sobriety.
4. Fast from Judging Others
I have mentioned this issue before on my blog, but, anymore, it seems like we are groomed for partisanship in all aspects of our lives. No longer are the terms Democrat and Republican, conservative and liberal, primarily terms that are concerned with how we vote. Now these distinctions refer to how we approach our co-workers, how we treat people of different ages, how we talk to our friends and family, and who we choose to avoid, hate, and judge in our everyday lives. It is a shame really.
So, I encourage you to think about some group that you have a hard time agreeing with or simply cannot stand. If you are a conservative who hates liberals, suspend your judgment of them for forty days. If you are a liberal who cannot stand our president or Republican leadership, let it go until Easter. If you distrust other races, have a hard time getting along with people of another gender, cannot stand the young, cannot stand the old, despise those who live in urban or suburban areas, think that we country folk are nothing more than a bunch of hicks… whatever the case may be; practice setting these thoughts aside for a time. Though our anger against others may be righteous, well-informed, and well-intentioned, I invite you to practice fasting from your judgments of those with whom you disagree.
5. Fast from Frivolous Spending
Buying stuff can be very validating. A new pair of shoes, a new tablet, a new guitar, or whatever other impulse buy that suits your fancy can bring you a temporary sense of joy and satisfaction. But, often, practices of American consumerism get us more wrapped up in things that we want than things that we need. What’s even worse, the experience of buying that new gadget from Amazon or new style of pants from Macy’s can get us feeling like our value is in the things that we pay for. If this applies to you, consider using the season of Lent as a time to practice refraining from therapy shopping and remember Jesus’ words “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19, NRSV).
6. Fast from Overworking
“Be still, and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10, NRSV) This command of the Psalmist seems like it must have been written for the American worker, even though it was jotted down thousands of years ago. As Americans, many of us place great value on our work and our ability to get stuff done. People are considered virtuous for working long hours into the night, doing whatever it takes to fill their time with productive activities. Yet, many of us commit to our work at the expense of time with our families, our friends and our faith. Work can be revered too much, and our work should not be valued as worth more than it actually is.
If this applies to you, consider fasting from overworking and practice resting more. After all, it is in the stillness that we come to know our God.
7. Fast from Apathy
This may seem like a weird one, but hang with me for a second. Apathy takes all sorts of forms in our modern world. It is easy to apathetically stream TV shows for hours on end, get caught up staring at your phone for too long, think that the issues your community faces are somebody else’s problem, or that your spiritual life does not need tending to. If there are aspects of your life and world that you think need tending to, but you have let excuses get in the way, give up the apathy and get active. This can be kind of general, but it can also be very specific. For instance, I often apathetically fall into the habit of not praying as much as I should and hide behind the fact that I attend church every week. Yet, tending to our personal lives in active and diligent ways- especially our spiritual lives – is something that God desires for us. Giving up apathy for this season might be just what the doctor ordered.
All in all, Lent is a time to intentionally and freely walk with God by fasting from things that we desire in this world, things that hold us back, or even habits that hold us down. I encourage you to faithfully and prayerfully consider taking on a fast of some sort during these forty days. If you break it early, no big deal. God does not rejoice in the perfection of our actions, but in the repentance of our hearts. Blessed fasting!
 http://www.journalism.org/2017/09/07/news-use-across-social-media-platforms-2017/ (Accessed 2/14/2018)
Rev. Seth Nelson is the author of The Church Unknown: Reflections of a Millennial Pastor. He serves as a pastor in Ronan, Montana where he lives with his wife and two children.
Rev. Seth Nelson, author of The Church Unknown: Reflections of a Millennial Pastor, writes this blog. The blog focuses on the future of the church as well as how God loves and cares for us in the present. He is a pastor in Ronan, Montana.