Happy Ash Wednesday! If you don’t live around a lot of Catholics (do just Catholics observe this holiday?) you may not know what it is all about. And you may wonder why people at the grocery store have dirty, smeared faces. I know I wondered. But then someone explained why they were all dirty and smeared in exactly the same way. Ash Wednesday marks 40 days before Easter. My neighbor explained to me that Christ fasted for forty days and was tempted in the wilderness right before his crucifixion. So they also fast for forty days. Sackcloth and ashes type fasting, originally. But now it seems like just the ashes have remained.
Traditionally, Christians fasted from food or meat during Lent. Now, people are a little more creative. I just looked up an article on beliefnet.com and found several thoughtful (and some crazy) ideas of what to fast from. Including (drumroll) fasting from media, driving, spending money, dating, sex, texting and. . . church. Yep. On Beliefnet.com they advocated fasting from church. That just makes me laugh.
But the idea is that you have this forty day window–and you can do something meaningful in it. Forty days is long enough to make a habit stick, but it is not too long. There is always light at the end of a short tunnel. As a missionary, we participated in several “Forty Day Fasts” to help us focus on our work. I remember abstaining from thoughts of ex-boyfriends, and only writing letters home at the approved time. One time we fasted from going to restaurants. Which, actually was a huge sacrifice. There were two fantastic Chinese restaurants along our beaten path. If you have gotten into a slump with your New Years Resolutions, this is a perfect opportunity to jump start one or two!
My husband fasted from sweets during Lent last year. He said, “It was such a long fast, that I felt like I was focused on remembering Him and His sacrifice in a more meaningful way. I was ready for Easter when it came–the spiritual part of Easter. It was a very fulfilling religious holiday for me, not just another party.” Last year I tried to fast from saying negative things and exaggerating, and it helped me focus on Christ too. When you are conscientiously doing something it automatically draws your mind back to the reason for it. When the reason is Christ, it’s a win-win. You can choose physical, spiritual or mental goals or fasts. Even if a person isn’t religious, this is just a great exercise in self discipline.
So join me! I pledge to fast from restaurants (again) and I will only eat sweets once a week. I know, it’s kind of lame to not be totally abstaining, but we are having lots of company between now and Easter and I don’t want them to think they are visiting a bunch of ascetics. If you want to join in (with a sense of accountability), feel free to leave your Lent intentions in the comments.