Whenever you fast, don’t be gloomy like the hypocrites. For they disfigure their faces so that their fasting is obvious to people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting isn’t obvious to others but to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.Matthew 6:16-18
I have been brought up short by Jesus’ above words.
You see, recently I blogged a couple of times about fasting from TV for Lent. My intention in doing so was to share my experience. The plan was to post occasionally the ups and downs of fasting from a habitual (though not necessarily sinful in itself) behaviour. What does fasting in this way uncover in my heart? How is God teaching me through this Lenten season? When I (or we) deny myself (ourselves) something I (we) want, what effect might that process have?
But it occurred to me that blogging about this may in fact violate Jesus’ teaching on fasting in the Sermon on the Mount. Especially if at any point I share the challenges of such fasting. Sad as it is that fasting from TV may actually prove difficult for me once in awhile, surely blogging about it (disfiguring my face) inadvertently draws attention to my spiritual efforts. “O woe is me! I have to read instead of turning to Netflix! How horrid is my life!” Nevermind the fact that it’s a voluntary fast.
So let me say this. Fasting in this way doesn’t make me a spiritual hero. Pastor or not, I am not super-spiritual. If anything, fasting in this way shows me that I have allowed something frivolous to become a mindless habit. Because I have had a moment or two where I wanted to turn back to this habit. Maybe precisely because it is a habit, not so much because there is anything intrinsically good about the activity.
Here’s another thing about this. Some might say it’s sort of empty to fast in this way, that there’s nothing particularly worthwhile about engaging in this Lenten practice. But I think for me fasting helps me understand how profoundly I am affected by a culture that tells me I should be able to have what I want when I want it. Why deny myself?
First, Jesus tells me to deny myself. And if that somehow doesn’t take on flesh and blood in my everyday life in practical ways, what can it possibly mean?
Not only that, but all of our habits, being habits after all, have a pretty direct affect on us and on people around us. A habit is a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up. Some are fairly benign; others are addictive and dangerous; and many fall somewhere in between and can cross over from one to the other.
If I habitually were to watch an hour of TV before supper, for instance, what else should or could I be doing? And if it becomes genuinely habitual, I may even find myself annoyed that some outside force, person, or situation requires me to break the habit involuntarily. I may even develop the feeling that I am in fact entitled to enjoy my habit uninteruppted.
So part of this process is becoming more self-aware. Sometimes it’s not until we attempt to give something up that we realize and experience how great a hold it has had on us.
More than that, it’s ultimately about gaining more freedom, ironic as it sounds. Because breaking myself of a poor habit allows me time to be with my kids, to be more productive in my work, or to enjoy something more substantial like a good book. Or it can. Whether it does, is up to me.
In the end, I don’t think I have been disfiguring my face, so to speak. But just in case, from now on I may not make posting about my Lenten fast too much of a habit.