[#pictureLent] February 14: FAST

02 Feb 14 Fast-01.jpg

By Cynthia Kepler-Karrer
Memorial UMC/NE Austin Mission Field
Austin, TX

First, read Isaiah 58:6-8

Almost my entire life, the question of this day was “What are you giving up for Lent?” 

As a kid and a youth, even if we came out of churches that didn’t have a specific Lenten practice of fasting, we would give up something in solidarity with our friends who did. We joked about giving up homework or broccoli, but it usually ended up being something more like Cokes or candy or chocolate. It seemed challenging at the time, but as a kid, I was confident that I could do anything.

In college, I didn’t have time or energy to make that kind of decision. After all, what we gave up in college mostly was sleep, though that wasn’t just for Lent!

By the time I became a pastor, we started talking about the Lenten fast as a discipline. The conversation shifted to what disciplines we could take on, what small things God was calling us to do rather than leave behind. I kept making bold plans and struggling through them.

Over the years, I have fasted by giving up—ice cream, TV, lunch. I have also fasted by taking on—writing letters, daily walks, cleaning a room in my house every day, collecting cans for the food pantry. 

And it’s all been my choice.

And that’s the struggle for me this year as I sit with Isaiah and contemplate the fast. I keep choosing, as if the question, “What are you doing for Lent?” is something that offers me a yearly opportunity for Creativity In Fasting or to try once again to pick up a habit I’ve been unsuccessful in picking up elsewhere, a discipline that may or may not stick.

“Is this not the fast that I choose?” 

What Isaiah describes as a fast is nothing less than God’s justice, and it unnerves me to think about. It’s too big for Lent, more than what 40 days can accomplish. To take that fast literally would be disruptive to the socio-economic, racial, educational, familial, legal, and national systems I benefit from, disruptive to the way I like to live, to the choices I’ve made. 

But it’s what God chooses. 

This fast frees people—it frees people and brings them out from oppression and clothes them and shelters them. It is a fast that gives people food! This fast removes the yoke that causes beloved children of God to wake up every day struggling not merely to succeed, but struggling even to survive. 

And keeping this fast doesn’t just free others. It frees me. It brings light to me. What a gracious gift of God. 

It seems audacious to pray that my fast this year might bring justice. I will probably still fast by giving up something. I will probably still fast by trying to do something. But I will also let God choose something more for me, something I am confident only God can accomplish—a fast that brings justice to the world and healing to me, a sinner.

Prayer: God of Freedom and Light, we begin another season of intentional fasting today. I don’t know if I will be up for the challenge of the fast that You choose, and I confess that I am nervous. Disciple me to choose like You choose. Free me to give up the things that harm others and start to do the things that help others. Make this fast to be one that changes me, not just until Easter, but for good. Amen.

Discussion/Reflection Questions: 

1. What has been your experience of fasting?
2. Where do the people in your mission field labor to survive, not just to succeed?
3. What are both a small thing that you think you can do and a big thing that only God can do in you to bring about justice in the world?