Lent is upon us and as we start cleaning our fridges of the food that we feasted upon until this point‚ we also start a much deeper interior cleaning of our inner being to prepare our souls for the joy of the Resurrection of our Lord.
Every year though‚ Lent looms over as a big and scary thing‚ mostly because it is something that stretches us to our limits. How much should I fast? How long can I resist standing? How many prostrations I should do? How many services are there to attend? Is it Pascha already? As thoughts like this pass through our minds we boldly move ahead with the discipline of fasting and the heightened rhythm of prayer and‚ just as a long-distance runner‚ we start getting into a steady pace that‚ alongside the grace of the Lord will take us all the way to our desired destination…
Sigh…Don’t you wish it was that easy? In real fasting-life things are generally messier. In our house‚ we have 5 kids and amongst them two teenage boys that are constantly hungry. My wife sets up a nice meal that took her half a day to cook and after five minutes is gone‚ while the boys are in the pantry foraging for ramen noodles. Then the packed lunches to replace the non-vegetarian meals at the cafeteria‚ and the constant grocery shopping of fruits and veggies that disappear like into a black hole. Yes‚ it is messy.
So why are we putting ourselves through this every year‚ only to fall and to fumble like novices learning a new skill?
One thought I would like to share with you is that‚ for me at least‚ fasting is like a truthful mirror of my own weaknesses. Every year‚ confronted with giving up the comfort of my pampered life‚ I have a hard time letting it go. The discipline of fasting underlines my faults and awakens my awareness of the true state of my becoming in Christ.
We are called to grow “unto a perfect man‚ unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:1’)‚ but how can I grow if I do not know my current stature‚ if I am not made aware of where I stand and what I need to grow into? The discipline of Great Lent heightens our spiritual mindfulness and allows us‚ as we struggle with its different aspects‚ to learn‚ through imperfect experiences and failings‚ what we need to work on to achieve the perfection we are called to attain: “Be ye therefore perfect‚ even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
From failing to follow the eating discipline of fasting we learn how much we are surrounded by food everywhere: at home‚ at work‚ in our cars‚ in front of our TVs even in bed. Through fasting hopefully‚ we’ll be able to start replacing this constant material snacking with spiritual bits that nourish our souls with a much more filling and sustainable food. We can learn to “munch” on a few minutes of the Jesus prayer‚ to get “filled” by the lives of the Saints and “feast” by partaking in the Body of Christ during a Presanctified Divine Liturgy.
The heavy schedule of Lenten services puts pressure on our busy schedules and could potentially highlight that we consciously or unconsciously waste a lot of time on frivolous activities. Learning to be better stewards of the time we received from God is a great Lesson of Lent as we become aware that “all things are lawful for me‚ but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me‚ but all things edify not”( 1 Corinthians 10:2’) and that we should “walk circumspectly‚ not as fools‚ but as wise‚ redeeming the time‚ because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:16-17). We can redeem the time that God has provided for us by participating in the timeless experience of the beautiful opportunities of prayer that are set in front of us during Lent.
The heightened work of almsgiving we are called to achieve is yet another eye-opener‚ as we try to be more generous with our treasure and often we find out that‚ looking for the smallest bill in our wallet to hand out to a homeless person‚ May not be what Christ would want us to do. Caring for our fellow man reveals a camaraderie in life and in its unavoidable pain that strengthens our relationship in Christ and brings together His Body by realizing that “whether one member suffer‚ all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured‚ all the members rejoice with it.” (! Corinthians 1’:26)
Fasting‚ prayer and almsgiving‚ the three pillars of Lent‚ are great opportunities for self-reflection and action for every Christian that is engaged in his personal growth in Christ. Yes‚ we will stumble and fall through Lent many a time‚ yet‚ by suffering the pain of failing‚ we May learn that every fall is an opportunity to rise “for though the righteous fall seven times‚ they rise again‚ but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.” (Proverbs 24:16)
We persevere through fasting every year‚ we put ourselves through the ringer during each Lenten season because we want to say‚ as the Apostle did “I have fought a good fight‚ I have finished my course‚ I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness‚ which the Lord‚ the righteous judge‚ shall give me at that day: and not to me only‚ but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
Resurrection is our destination and the journey through Great Lent exposes ourselves in a mirror that is made less and less dim (1 Corinthians 1’:1’) by its discipline. “Examine yourselves‚ whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves” (2 Corinthians 1’:5) and the Kingdom will open its arms to receive you.
Have a Great Lent and a glorious Resurrection!