I decided to fast this year, to give up something I appreciate as a good gift of God in his creation. What I’ve given up isn’t important, except to say that I chose something that I enjoy and look forward to in the normal routine of life. Giving it up has proven to be an effective reminder that something is different, that somehow this time isn’t fully normal, that in choosing to fast I am choosing to be open to God’s Spirit, whatever that might entail.
It is far easier to fast than it is to face myself. “Our fallen human nature is incurably self-centered, and pride is the elemental human sin,” John Stott says in The Message of Romans (1994), “whether the form it takes is self-importance, self-confidence, self-assertion or self-righteousness.” My question is what it means when it takes all these forms, simultaneously. Being made to see patterns of impatience, ways of speaking that are unkind (even if unintentional), a tendency to want things my way, a desire to control—my self-centeredness seems to know no bounds.
Over the days of my fast, in the background of this Lenten season images and news pour in from Japan and the Arab world, of tsunamis and revolution. I have felt the weight of these events in an almost visceral way, having to be careful to limit my exposure to the media so as not to feel overwhelmed. Only God is capable of knowing the full horror of our fallenness without falling prey to despair or cynicism. This time it seem less like a distraction (the way I usually experience the news media) than a rude splash of knowledge, unwanted yet important, that brings greater clarity.
I have given up very little, a tiny enjoyment I can not claim as my right, while others have had everything swept away, and still others are risking all in the hope that something better can be built. And while all this unfolds I am shown the petty insistence of my own pride that demands central stage in little ways designed to subtly sideline everyone else. I do not mean to be that way, but that is a small comfort. I live that way.
May God have mercy.