I tend to lean towards a more structured, disciplined faith of requirements. Sacrifice. The 40 days of Lent feed a tendency I have of making what I believe into lots of acts of self-deprecation. Traditionally, one would fast, leaving behind things of pleasure and building time and space into life to connect with God, with the sacrifice of Christ and the meaning behind our preparation before Good Friday.
It is quite a surprise, then, that instead of cutting away the unruly parts of life and imposing forced suffering, I find that my Lenten Fast is one of freedom.
For the last several months – nearly nine of them – I have been a practicing pescatarian (eating only fish and eggs from the meat group). I have cut red meat, pork and poultry from my diet, forcing those around me to accommodate my convictions, intentionality and discipline. I am not a member of PETA, but found in myself the desire to express a stance of non-violence, a stance opposing the injustices in our food industry, and to live out the mindfulness that comes with fasting every day.
The first day of Lent a strange thing happened. I went to a friend’s for dinner and drinks. They had already prepared and eaten so I grabbed a plate and dished myself some delicious culinary delights. I ate as we talked, sipped on wine and whiskey, and enjoyed chocolaty desserts.
About two hours into my visit I realized that the dinner I had so hardily eaten and enjoyed had chicken in it. Not hiding in it, but right there, bits of meat that I hadn’t even considered not eating, my mouth didn’t reject the fleshy feel and my being didn’t even pause as I stabbed them with my fork.
On my mind fairly consistently for the last nine months has been the self-drawn boundary of vegetarianism. Each meal invite, restaurant menu, new recipe and quick lunch was vetted through the contents. I skimmed every paper menu, online ordering system, and package to ensure no animal parts or pieces had found their way onto my plate. And with one meal I had completely disconnected from this long-term fast.
I officially committed to giving up vegetarianism for Lent about that time. In the moment I didn’t realize what an impact it would have on me (and I still think it sounds silly).
This new freedom has lifted a great weight off my shoulders that I didn’t know I was carrying. It is freedom from failing to accomplish what I set out to accomplish. Freedom from feeling judgment from those around me because they didn’t hold the same conviction, or perhaps because their conviction was even stronger. Freedom from forcing my friends to make a separate meal for me. Freedom from scouring ingredient labels or having to request special preparations. I am not used to experiencing life in an every day realization of freedom times three.
Christ’s work on the cross enabled freedom to be established in our lives. Freedom from sin, our pasts, failure, the hurt and pain that comes with life in a fallen system. The cross broke the chains that tie us to our need to DO in order to be accepted. It split us from our brokenness and gave us a new way of living.
We can approach this with guilt of repayment- that something is due to He that did it all, but those efforts on our part do not validate what Christ did.
Being a vegetarian was an active fast for me about connecting with a higher standard and acting out my convictions. Fasting vegetarianism is about recognizing that there is a freedom I walk in and enjoying the things that have been provided around me.
[Our responses and reactions to the things that happen around us reveal the depth of our character and nature. They are opportunities, also, to show the character and love of God. This Lenten Season I am practicing awareness by looking for deep truth in everyday things.]