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Day 17 of Lent – A time I fasted

March 1, 2013

Verse for reflection:  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:17-18 (NIV)

Facing a long weekend of getting ready for a certain medical procedure wherein your insides are fastidiously clean (if you get my drift and you’re of a certain age), is no fun.

But doing so during Lent: what’s not to love? You do the every-ten-year thing, win points with God, and lose weight all in one l-o-n-g weekend.

Right. That’s not what Jesus told his disciples to do nor does it qualify for true sacrificing in anybody’s religion whether you call it Ramadan or Lent. In a church school class for Lent, we’re studying the classic Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life (Marjorie Thompson) regarding spiritual disciplines, and last Sunday looked at the topic of fasting.

I was reminded of the one time I engaged in spiritual fasting for five days. I was in Mennonite Voluntary Service (VS) and was earnestly trying to figure out what I should do next. I lived with five other people in our “unit” house. To escape notice of my fellow VSers, I fasted only over lunch. I could easily arrange to be absent or otherwise engaged over lunch and no one would notice, so I ate breakfast and dinner with the others, but skipped lunch and all snacks in between.

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(Goofing off in the kitchen of our unit apartment, about to snitch a bedtime snack. Circa 1970.)

That probably doesn’t sound like true suffering (it wasn’t) but I got hungry enough that my stomach would remind me frequently through the day that I was fasting. And I used those hunger pangs to pray specifically for direction from God as to what I should do when I got out of VS. Perhaps it wasn’t much of a fast, but it was genuine.

The most likely direction was college, but I truly wasn’t sure where I should go, what I should study, or how I would pay for it. This was 1971, before admission deadlines were as stringent as they are today. While I fasted and prayed that week in early spring, I received two strong nudges: a letter from a friend of mine who had enrolled at Eastern Mennonite College (now University) and encouraged me to go there; then a couple days later the financial aid officer from the school called and said I would probably qualify for some pretty strong financial aid. My friend had put him up to it. It looked like pretty clear guidance to me, and I really never looked back. So I went to EMU, had four wonderful years (including one year studying abroad), found good direction for my life’s work, and ended up meeting the man with whom I would share my journey (but that’s a story for another time).

The neatest thing was feeling a very strong connection with God as I prayed, searched, meditated, and tried not to yield to the constant temptation of one of my favorite things: food.

Action. Whatever you’re giving up, or taking on for Lent, keep at it. Sunday—feast day if that’s the way you practice Lent—is coming when you can take a “break” from your discipline for one day. As we recall the sacrifice of Jesus, this is nothing. We don’t “earn” our salvation anyway; it is a pure gift of God. Amen.

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Pic 1: Judi Brenneman, unit hostess, demonstrates a craft with the girls club we ran. Pic 2: Watching my nursery school students which I taught three days a week at Talcum Mennonite Church. Pic 3: Here’s proof I played college basketball my first two years: #33. Miriam Mummaw, our coach is beside me.

***

My first book, On Troublesome Creek (Herald Press, 1981) is about the year I spent in Voluntary Service near Hazard, Kentucky.

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