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How I am Fasting For Lent

February 29, 2012

Disclaimer:  Since this post goes slightly against what I am fasting from, know this:  I seriously considered sharing this.  I am not sharing to get recognition or affirmation, only as a way of sharing that which I struggle with, in case you somehow struggle with this too.

Way back when, when Lent was first established and practiced, it had three main tenets:  fasting, prayer, and almsgiving (giving to the church or charities).  Somehow, along the line, Lent became a good time to experiment with ways our life would be different if we gave up something like chocolate, alcohol, salty foods, TV, or Facebook, or if we added something to our lives like exercise or more quality time with our family.  This year, I am eschewing society’s current embrace of Lent as time to clean up our lifestyles and lose weight.  I’ve decided to go back to Lent in its earliest intentions:  as a time for preparing new converts to life with Christ through fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.

I thought a bit about fasting from food, but to be honest, I didn’t feel led to that.  Instead, I thought of a book I’ve been reading:  The Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen, one of my favorite authors.  Of the many things he writes about in his book written during his dark struggle with depression is our relationship with other people.  He talks of loneliness and looking to others for recognition and acceptance.  Nouwen writes:

Do not tell everyone your story.  You will only end up feeling more rejected.  People cannot give you what you long for in your heart.

Through Nouwen’s words, I realized what I was being called to fast; the approval of others.  I want others to think that I am smart, that I have something unique to say.  I want others to see the fabulous me that I see in myself (self-esteem isn’t currently a weakness of mine).  I want pats on the back and applause at times.  I want to be commended for my excellent parenting skills, my wonderful insights that I share in Sunday School, and the great kindness I show to my neighbors.  In searching out praise, I share too much sometimes.  I share not to help others on their journey but so they can see how far I am on my journey and how they too can travel the exact same journey that I am traveling.

The problem is glaringly obvious.  What separates me from God is my desire to please others.  Fasting is meant to demonstrate a deep need for God, not a want like chocolate or potato chips, but a deep need, something my life couldn’t do without.  I am trying to fill that God shaped hole with others’ approval.  But like Nouwen said, I can’t tell everyone my story.  I only end up feeling more rejected.  People cannot give me what I long for in my heart.  I end up staring out my laundry room window at 5 pm, hoping for someone I know to walk up my sidewalk with a plateful of chocolate chip cookies and ask me how I am doing, if I need anything.  It hasn’t happened yet in three years of staring out that window.  I end up knowing loneliness.  Knowing, deep down, that no human can erase all the loneliness.

I am fasting for Lent.  I am giving up trying to fill my deep needs with others.  I am giving up trying to find my value in how others see me.  I am giving up fighting with my loneliness and instead using the lonely times to enter into prayer.

How am I doing this?  Well, the easiest way that comes to mind is to cut down on my facebook time, significantly.  I recognize that I too often tend to use facebook as a lifeline.  I try to stay afloat when I am just surviving, tired, or lonely by checking on others.  I attempt to compose some humorous status update or share some picture that I think lots of people will like.  Facebook has become a way of getting others approval through the number of likes or comments I receive.  Do I really need approval in that way to feel loved?  While I am not cutting off facebook completely, I have determined only set times that I can check it.  I am trying to minimize my own posts.

The other way is to recognize the times of loneliness in my days.  I am good at thinking certain things don’t pertain to me.  I think I am above feeling lonely or seeking others’ approval.  I am much more like the Pharisee at the temple who thanks God for how good he is and how well he follows rules than the sinner who simply prays, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  When I feel loneliness or any of its friends (competitiveness and/or attention seeking behaviors) sneaking in, I try to remember the sinner’s prayer and repeat it over and over.  I have also attempted to memorize a Psalm that I find reassuring.  I listen to Christian music (well, now that is out in the open…not generally a fan, but I am finding it has its virtues, too) in hopes of being reminded that I am not alone.

Again, in Nouwen’s words:

When you feel lonely, stay with your loneliness.  Avoid the temptation to let your fearful self run off.  Let it teach you its wisdom; let it tell you that you can live instead of just surviving.  Gradually you will become one and you will find that Jesus is living in your heart and offering you all that you need.

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