Coronavirus: The Lenten fast we did not choose

I attended our church’s Ash Wednesday service with hardly a second thought, going forward to be marked with ashes of repentance to signal the beginning of the 40-day Lenten season ending with Easter Sunday. I never imagined that would be one of the last public worship services I would attend during Lent.

I don’t think any of us would have chosen the fast we are currently practicing. Social distancing, which is a nice way of saying “forced isolation.” No parties or gatherings or dinners out or even in-person Sunday worship services. Is this how I imagined Lent?

In a word, no, never, not at all.

We are all living through a time none of us could have foreseen. We’re balancing working at home with homeschooling without any social outlets. We’ve seen the inside of our four walls much more than ever before, and we have been forced to be limited to in-person social contact within our homes and workplaces (if deemed “essential”). What will it be like when this unchosen fast is broken? What kind of grand dinner parties and back-to-school celebrations will be held? What will it be like to return to worship at our places of worship, side-by-side with the physical manifestation of the Body of Christ? To receive the elements of communion again in the Lord’s Supper? To witness a baptism? To sing with a building full of people?

I think I’m saving my true Easter celebration for then. (Oh, that it were *only* 40 days of this unchosen fast!) I think that will speak of resurrection, of life after death, more than our live-streamed service this Sunday – if I can say that without being sacrilegious. Don’t get me wrong – I am grateful for technology that makes live-streaming Sunday worship possible, and “virtual” small group meetings and friend chats. But I know I’m not alone in saying that virtual is no substitute for in-person.

How will we emerge from this fast together? I hope we will be people who cannot help but cherish our social gatherings more – who stop putting off inviting the friends for dinner and holding the “just because” party. People who will never take a coffee date or lunch meeting for granted. People who will value connection in physical spaces more than we ever did before, when we couldn’t help but take it for granted and assume that “lunch out” and “dinner dates” would always be available.

I hope we are a people who will be more appreciative of those on the frontlines right now. The delivery workers, the grocers, the nurses and doctors and healthcare workers, the teachers (oh, the teachers! let’s all vote for HUGE raises for them!), the USPS deliverers. Let us make this imposed social fast one that yields good fruit in the days when the fasting ends. For it will end one day. Coronavirus will not have the last word. No, it will not, and we will emerge stronger, more connected, more grateful. Resurrection people who cherish life after death in every sense of the word.

Lenten fast and reading “7”

cropped-img_0363.jpgThere is a beauty to winter’s barren branches rising against the crisp blue sky. A beauty quite different from that of the branches clothed in spring’s fresh buds and blooms of life or when radiant in fall’s glorious colors. It is not unlike what’s gained from a fast. It is in what’s not there that we can see and appreciate what is, and even anticipate what will be again. Reading the book 7 by Jen Hatmaker has been good to remind me of the beauty of what is not. The beauty of less rather than more, of giving away things rather than gaining more possessions, of turning off media instead of plugging in, of growing in appreciation instead of discontentment, and of making God’s Kingdom priorities bigger than that of my own “American kingdom” of self. I don’t want to make  a new Christian law to follow, which I could so easily try to do – something that focuses on me trying harder and doing more. Yet I see its value in the way that what she does is so counter-cultural that I can’t help but begin thinking more about the eternal treasures we are to be storing up instead of earthly goods to acquire. Now if only that thinking would translate into doing … 

Enter the Lenten fast. The introduction from our church’s Lent devotional guide sets the scene:

Lent is a season of preparation and repentance during which we anticipate Good Friday and Easter,
inviting us to make our hearts ready for remembering Jesus’ passion and celebrating Jesus’ resurrection.

It is traditional to choose something to fast from for 40 days beginning on Ash Wednesday (with Sundays as “feast days”). In combination with some of what I was challenged by in the fasts, I decided to choose a few things nearest and dearest to my heart: (1) Target, naturally (2) non-essential phone apps (3) sweets/desserts and (4) tv for Seth and me

And I am here to tell you that I have kept this fast perfectly and will never be turning back again. Ahem. Not quite. I’ve been surprised by how difficult it has felt at moments, at how naturally I want to distract myself with Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, email; at how much I have longed to just escape into a good tv show at night; at the way I crave something sweet in a hard mom moment; and at how I’ve longed to run to Target with my daughters in tow just to buy something shiny. I think that without even thinking, I was using apps, reaching for sweets, and making a Target list in the first few days of Lent. Yikes! Am I really that addicted? Apparently so.

But there has also been something sweet that has crept in amidst the new “barrenness” of my life in these areas. Less budget drain and more time spent playing with my kids because of no Target; more focus on the present because of no phone apps; more rest and conversation with my husband because of no tv; more reminders to turn to Jesus in prayer instead of reaching for the nearest sweet escape (not to mention, more energy!). Every day has not been like this. I have fought these self-imposed restrictions and wiggled my way out of them occasionally. I have been angry more quickly some days because my false refuges have been taken away. What’s come to the surface of my heart is not always beautiful. But then again, with more to repent of, I am brought back to Jesus more often.

One of the Lenten passages this week was Matthew 6:1-21. I was struck by the phrase, “your Father who sees in secret.” In the context of this passage, it’s talking about doing these things in secret: giving to the needy, fasting, and praying. What do I do in secret, that only my Father sees? And how does what I do in secret reveal where my heart’s true treasure is located? Too often what’s revealed is that I am unloving towards my family, resentful of what I give, that I’m self-indulgent and prayerless. When performance for others is stripped away, what is left? Here is a place of repentance, as I seek the identity of being clothed in the righteousness of the One who perfectly obeyed – even in secret – and where I am reminded that Christ’s life in me – in the very core of who I am when all else is stripped away – is my only hope of glory. But what a very sure and certain hope it is! So fasting leads to repentance which then leads to celebration. And this is the Easter worship of a Life crucified then resurrected and now waiting for me in heaven.