Through this season of Lent I have been writing about my decision to fast one day a week through breakfast and lunch (A Lenten Neophyte). Even this small sacrifice has been a valuable tutor in my life.
After stumbling out of the blocks on my first day of Lenten fasting (Loving God More Than Timbits), I regained my footing and successfully fasted through breakfast and lunch the next day. It was not without difficulty, but it was without incident. I arrived home from work hungry, but pleased. My stomach was empty but my self-discipline stood firm. I had sent a message to my stomach. My love for God outweighed my love for Timbits or the myriad of sweets that surround me at work. Three cheers for me. Time to celebrate.
In the day that followed I found myself using my previous sacrifice as a justification for indulgence. The rationale was simple: since I skipped two meals yesterday, I would make up for it today.
An uncommon midmorning snack;
seconds at lunch…on dessert…candy first, then a donut;
Munching on chips on my way home from work;
A generous bowl of ice cream before bed.
This was far more than my usual caloric intake. I was making up for lost ground and restoring the cosmic balance. It would not do to follow up a day of fasting with an average day of eating. Sacrifice one day teetered the scale. I would totter it back into balance with indulgence the next. My anguished stomach had earned some brownie points (a misnomer, in that there is widespread agreement that these points are redeemable for all manner of edible indulgences and not merely brownies). Now was the time to cash in my chips. It sounded reasonable.
After my wholly justifiable binge, I got to thinking about this being a familiar pattern. Sacrifice here entitles me to indulgence there. It seeps into more than just my discipline of fasting. I rationalize my failures as reasonable indulgences. I deserve this extravagance to balance our deprivation. It is, after all, only fair.
Ironically, I only call for fairness when I get the short end of the stick. I don’t demand deprivation after I have experienced abundance. I don’t seek out pain to balance pleasure. The burden of deprivation lingers longer than the satisfaction of abundance.
Truth is, I don’t really have an issue with unbalanced scales, so long as they are unbalanced in my favor.
But what if I took a different angle? I recently finished a book by RC Sproul Jr. entitled The Call To Wonder (a book I will review here in the near future). In the last chapter he talks about his wife’s struggle with leukemia. As she reflected on the possibility of her death, she feared not for herself, but for her children and husband who would have to live through this loss. Sproul allayed her fears by showing her a different perspective. The grief of loss would be countered by the joy for what they had had.
He says it better than I can, “One cannot - or at least ought not - acknowledge the pain of loss without giving thanks for what has been given…My love for these children drives me to empathy for this potential loss. It in turn makes me stunned that their heavenly Father should have blessed them to have had this woman for a mother” (Sproul, p.170).
This was a helpful viewpoint. The emphasis shifts from bitterness due to deprivation to gratitude for undeserved blessing. Not stuck in the grief of a mother’s death, but moving forward with gratefulness for a mother’s life. The emphasis is placed, not on deprivation, but on plenty as undeserved. I feel entitlement far too much. The blessings of life are undeserved, not something I am entitled to. Deprivation then becomes something not to be compensated for, but something to be accepted.
Fasting is not a set up for binging. It is an opportunity to demonstrate contentment in hunger. Discovering that God is sufficient, I don’t have to compensate with double dessert the next day. If he is sufficient, then no compensation is necessary…though my stomach is trying to convince my fingers to type otherwise.
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