Millions of Christians across the world are in the midst of marking an important period of time that began March 6 — the festival of Lent.
Lent is a period of 40 days during which Christians remember the events leading up to and including the death of Jesus Christ, who Christians believe is the Son of God and whose life and teachings are the foundation of Christianity. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday for western Christian churches.
The 40-day period is called Lent after an old English word meaning ‘lengthen’. This is because of the time of year when it happens. This is when the days start to get longer the warmer days of first spring then summer approach.
During Lent, many people decide to give something up they love — perhaps chocolate or sweets. Others might decide to take up something, like helping out more at home or making an effort to be nicer to their brother or sister.
Lent is a time of reflection and asking of forgiveness. It is a time when Christian prepare to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection on Easter, which marks the conclusion of the Lenten season.
In Edgar County, many churches offer special services, Bible studies or prayer services. The Paris Presbyterian Church is once again offering its Wednesday noon service of a short message and music, followed by a luncheon. The public is invited to attend the services at 241 West Court Street.
Millions of people give up something as a sign of sacrifice and to test their self-discipline. Christians believe this is to represent Jesus Christ’s sacrifice when he went into the desert to pray and fast for the 40 days before beginning his ministry which led to his execution at the hands of the Romans.
In the Bible’s New Testament, while Jesus was in the desert, Satan tempted him to turn away from God and worship him instead. Jesus refused to do so. This is why Christians give something up, in order to test their own self-discipline too.
A small number of Christians may even fast for the whole of Lent although most will only observe this practice on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday — the day at the end of Lent which marks Jesus’s crucifixion, which is a day of mourning.
Christian fasting isn’t the same thing as dieting, or going on a hunger strike, or punishing our bodies, or fasting for a medical procedure. Christian fasting is intentionally withholding something Christians normally partake in (normally food) for the purpose of creating space in our lives to feast on the presence of Jesus directly.
According to Gravity Leadership (www.gravityleadership.com), Christian fasting is:
n Wisdom – it’s love and knowledge meeting together in a practice that avails us to God’s resources to meet our needs.
n Training – it’s the indirect effort that gives us access to something we can’t try or make happen on our own.
n Surrender – it’s a voluntary “making ourselves weak” so that we can know the strength and power of God (2 Cor 12:9-10).
Simply put: Fasting is a way to place ourselves in the way of grace by withdrawing our reliance on earthly things so that we can feast on God’s presence and power, the Gravity Leaders teach.
Those who have never fasted before may wish to practice a partial fast which can involved food and drink or certain habits. Fasting may include not partaking in foods associated with feasting including chocolate, desserts, caffeine and alcohol. It may also include fasting from media or entertainment, cell phones, streaming video, radio, music, email or computers. It can also include fasting from shopping, looking in the mirror, wearing makeup, using an elevator, finding the shortest checkout line or parking in the spot closest to the store.
Aaron Damiani, the author of “The Good of Giving Up: Discovering the Freedom of Lent,” offers these questions to help Christians discern a partial fast that will be challenging enough to be fruitful:
n What cravings have hold of me?
n What would be truly liberating to leave behind?
n Short of an addiction, am I dependent on a particular food, drink, substance or activity?
n What would be truly challenging me to give up for Lent?
nWhat is Christ asking of me?
Damiani recommends praying through these questions and then make a choice to give up. Sharing with a spouse or friend is a way to embrace accountability.
One more thing about partial fasting during Lent: Sundays don’t count. Sundays are feast days, which means one does not fast on Sundays. Lent is actually 46 days long: 40 days of fasting and six Sundays of feasting. Practicing a feast day helps make Lenten fasts sustainable.
Some Christians embrace a whole fast. This is not abstaining from food for all of Lent but rather the practice of skipping certain meals and snacks for a particular amount of time. Those who are in participating in a whole fast may drink water or some other non-substantial liquid, like chicken broth. Some Christians choose to eat only bread and water as part of their whole fast.
For those who have never done a whole fast, experts recommend starting with a 24-hour fast once a week. Traditional days for Christians to fast are Wednesdays — to mark the night of Christ’s betrayal — and Fridays — to commemorate the crucifixion.
Before a 24-hour fast, have a light dinner and eat nothing more before bed. Skip breakfast and lunch the next day and break the fast at dinner that evening. Some Christians fast all the way from Maundy Thursday to Holy Saturday, breaking their three-day fast on Easter morning.
It’s never too late to make the sacrifice of giving up something for Lent. According to the leaders at Gravity Leadership, “The point is to create space in our souls to feast on the presence of Jesus in our midst. So celebrate the gospel as you fast, and look for God’s grace to meet you.”