By Rev. Justin Smoot for Wausau Pilot & Review

We have come to that time of year when Christianity becomes a health fad.

To some it’s known as Lent. To others, it’s giving up coffee for Jesus. To still other’s it’s a reason to increase their fish consumption…for God. And, to pastors, it’s a season of passion, both the intense emotion and the “…of the Christ” type.

The end result seems to be the same: a season of misery and then Easter. Most of our spiritual practices this season take a form similar to fasting, but are not actually fasting. This is because fasting is not simply the Marshmallow Test.

Created by a psychologist, the Marshmallow Test is a simple way to see how children are at delaying their gratification. They are presented with a marshmallow and told if they do not eat it, they will get two marshmallows when the proctor returns. While giving up something for Lent feels like this,
it is not fasting. If we hold out for the entire 40 days without coffee, soda, chocolate, or alcohol,who did that? And what does it matter to God if you deny yourself caffeine for 40 days?

Fasting is a spiritual practice of simplicity and humanity. It is not a test of your willpower, but a reminder of your mortality.

Ash Wednesday begins with a rebuke of our sinful selves and a reminder of our
mortality. Fasting brings our mortality into stark contrast by stripping away everything we feel is “necessary” for life and bringing us face to face with hunger, the most basic of human experiences. We then experience the foundational joy that everything we receive in terms of basic needs for life, “our daily bread,” is a gift from God for our continued living.

Fasting is paired with prayer, which is a reminder of the source of “our daily bread.”

There are many things in life that convince us that we need them for strength and life, things of this world that claim to power our daily lives. Fasting and prayer refocuses our attention on God’s place in our life, not just as a power-boost for when we need to get through, but as a daily, sustaining presence. This also brings into stark contrast the ways that God works in and through community to bring us the daily bread, because we do not collect Manna from heaven, but instead are connected, through our community, to the very earth from which our food
comes. Reminding us of this core truth is the purpose of Lent and fasting.

We are a people who rely on God. We come to see the distractions of life and those things that come between us and our connection to our fellow humans and the earth for what they are sin and brokenness. We seek to shape our lives, through fasting, prayer, and every kind of spiritual discipline and religious practice into agents of reconciliation to build bridges and strengthen connections. So that on the other side of Lent we don’t just get 2 marshmallows for ourselves, we don’t just pick caffeine and chocolate back up, but we find that our perspective has fundamentally changed.

Not a fad, but a foundation for life.

Blessings for your Lenten journey.

Rev. Justin Smoot

Rev. Justin Smoot is one of the pastors at Saint Andrew Lutheran Church in Rib Mountain. He is always on the lookout for how God’s story turns our lives upside down and draws us closer together.

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