16 “And when you fast, don’t put on a sad face like the hypocrites. They distort their faces so people will know they are fasting. I assure you that they have their reward. 17 When you fast, brush your hair and wash your face. 18 Then you won’t look like you are fasting to people, but only to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Jesus spoke about fasting, a spiritual practice that usually meant (and still means) not eating for some amount of time. Some Christians may choose to fast from social media, TV or even recreational shopping. The purpose of fasting is to focus on God’s presence in every space of our lives, not on our lesser interests or wants. So any type of fasting causes some discomfort. Perhaps because fasting is more challenging than other practices, Jesus noted that we can fast, too, for show, rather than from an honest desire to draw nearer to God.
Lord Jesus, I enjoy food. I am uneasy with the idea of giving it up, even for a short time. Whether I fast from food or something else, help me do it to draw attention toward you, not toward me. Amen.
My office trashcan is a shiny mess of wrappers - a testament to the last week and my epic feat of stress-eating my way through a bag of chocolate peppermint patties. What started as a thoughtful Christmas gift from my husband ended with sticky fingers, spiked blood sugar and a bit of a stomachache. The junk food didn’t fill me up, didn’t nourish my body, and definitely didn’t make me feel better.
So, I turned from sweets to social media – refreshing my Twitter feed, reading the comments on Facebook I typically would have ignored, watching and re-watching videos. This gratuitous consumption of media did not satisfy, and no amount of scrolling brought me peace.
And then, Dear Reader, I turned to junk religion. The sort of religion that (in the words of Fr. Richard Rohr) “satisfies enough to gratify the momentary desire but does not really feed the intellect or the heart ... characterized by fear of the present and fear of the future.” I wanted to justify my anger and fear and try to let myself off the hook for any amount of responsibility I might have for participating in a culture that endorses violence, white supremacy and division.
Now, more than ever, I need a fast.
Fasting from food is a very privileged spiritual discipline. I am privileged that I get to choose not to eat, or that I get to choose to eat sweets instead of the vegetables in my well-stocked fridge. But for those of us who were lucky enough to never experience hunger growing up, an uncomfortable day spent reflecting on that privilege might do us some good. Not for bragging rights or weight loss, but an intentional time of prayer and cultivation of compassion for the 1 in 7 people in Kansas City who are food insecure.
Fasting from media in this day and age is a counter-cultural act. We forget that we are free to unhook ourselves from the constant drip of news and outrage, saying “no thank you” to the machine that demands we “Stay tuned! Binge this! Don’t stop watching, you might miss something!” Saying no to media isn’t about being uninformed, it’s about saying yes to being present with family and friends, and most importantly, the presence of God.
Fasting from selfish, junk religion is where I find myself currently. My prayer is that my hunger for comfort and self-righteousness be replaced with a hunger for justice, mercy and kindness. I’m not saying no to Christ but saying yes to the opportunity for transformation.
We don’t turn to spiritual disciplines to prove to others “this is not who we are.” We turn to spiritual disciplines because we know exactly who we are. We know that without consistent practice and intentional action it is all too easy to get caught up in our everyday lives or swept away by the current culture.
I’ll be honest, my friends, it feels a bit like I’m going against today’s GPS verse by sharing this with you. But I wanted you to know you are not alone in your struggle to fast from the thing that is taking up too much sacred time and space in your life. You are not alone in discomfort, and you are not alone in hearing the siren call of the Thin Mints in your freezer (okay, that one might just be me).
Let’s wash our faces (and our hands) and know that God loves us.
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