Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities that may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Lord Jesus, think on me,
and purge away my sin;
from earthborn passions set me free,
and make me pure within.
Lord Jesus, think on me
with many a care opprest;
let me thy loving servant be,
and taste thy promised rest.
Lord Jesus, think on me,
nor let me go astray;
through darkness and perplexity
point thou the heavenly way.
Lord Jesus, think on me,
that, when the flood is past,
I may the eternal brightness see,
and share thy joy at last.
— George the Sinner, tr: A.W. Chatfield
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.
On recent Saturday mornings, my son Eli and I have been watching The Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon on Netflix. Most recently we watched a bunch of episodes of the Marvel show WandaVision on Disney+. After that I would sometimes watch an episode or two of Law & Order.
But now I won’t be doing any of that until after Easter.
Now, I confess that I know exactly what it’s like to spend a few—maybe even several?—hours watching TV, and then afterwards having this feeling of, well, waste.
More specifically, it’s the feeling that my time spent passively enjoying a show didn’t really add anything to my life. I might very well have enjoyed it, but I don’t take anything away of value. At least most of the time.
But when I use that same time to read or perhaps work on a blog post, my mind and my heart are more actively engaged. I get something from it. It adds something to my life, to my day, to my imagination, to my sense of accomplishment. It has value beyond the time spent doing it.
Don’t get me wrong. I probably will return to watching superhero cartoons with Eli once Lent is over. Indeed, I love doing that with him. I will probably also watch other kinds of TV again.
At the same time, I hope and pray that my experience of Lent—and of fasting from TV—will change my attitude and my habits.
In the meantime, I will take full advantage of not watching TV to do other things that are both enjoyable and life-giving.
So it’s day three of no Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, or Disney+.
So far, so good.
I’ve noticed a few things. First, it’s not really something I miss per se. But because of the habits that I’d formed, I’m aware of the absence of it. I miss or at least am cognizant of the change in my routine. It’s amazing what I would do because it’s what I was used to doing. Lent is giving me the opportunity to reflect on and change habits.
I also have a little more time. When I would watch something while eating lunch, my meal was always done before whatever I was watching. But I kept watching. Today while eating I listened to a podcast. When I was done eating, I got back to work. I kept listening to the podcast, but it wasn’t the same as passive entertainment; it was spiritually edifying and intellectually stimulating. Lent is teaching me a bit about what Scripture calls “redeeming the time” (Ephesians 5:16).
Lastly, there have been moments when I’ve thought about “adjusting” my commitment to fasting from TV for Lent. Maybe I could only fast from certain portions of it. No doubt an excuse to keep some of what I want. However, I’m not going to change the parameters of my fast. To that end, Lent is helping me experience the value of not always getting what I want.
With 37 days to go, it should be interesting to see what else I learn from observing Lent.