That question formed a large part of a discussion I had the other day in the course of a visit to an elementary school. I was gathered for a Q&A with students in grades 4-6, and they wanted to tell me what they were “giving up for Lent” and, of course, what I would be sacrificing.
At a certain point I asked if they would be able to give up Instagram for Lent. Well, that was met with loud cries of horror and gasps of disbelief! No way! Hmmm. What about Snapchat? Same thing. I had this sinking feeling that any goodwill I had built up with them was quickly vanishing. But the point was made: the Lenten fast aims at attachments, ie, at “giving up” anything to which we are clinging, to which we are inordinately attached, that holds us back from growth in our relationship with Christ.
So, what are some attachments we may want to examine in view of letting go of them, and not only in Lent but also beyond? The Scripture readings proclaimed at mass on the weekend suggest three “fasts” we may do well to consider.
- Fast from self-reliance. The Gospel account of the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-10) recalls the Father’s identification of Jesus as his well-beloved Son, together with His command: “Listen to him.” There is a general tendency today to listen not to Christ but to ourselves, not to his words but to our own desires, not to his will, but to our own determinations. At a time when the culture encourages a false sense of autonomy and control, we can grow attached to self-determination and self-reliance. From these we need to fast in order to place our reliance where it belongs: on God’s providence.
- Fast from fear. There is no shortage of events or circumstances that can leave us anxious. It is good to keep in mind these words of St. Paul: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … [In] all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:35-39).” Let go of fear. Replace it with faith.
- Fast from doubt. I participated in a prayer circle last week with some Indigenous people. One of the elders offered a prayer for something clearly impossible by human reckoning, and then concluded, “I know it’s asking a lot, but I somehow think it’s possible.” Exactly. The perfect stance before God. Nothing is beyond God’s reach. With God, nothing is impossible. Do we believe this, or do we doubt? Listen again to St Paul: “He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?” (Rom 8:32). God’s love is without limit; so, too, is His power. Give up doubt for Lent. Give it up, period. Trust in the love and care of God.