Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10.27)
In the faith tradition of my youth, it was not uncommon for pastors to call impromptu fasts. He/she would urge congregants to “turn their plates over” and devote time ordinarily spent preparing and eating meals to prayer, Scripture, meditation, and other spiritual pursuits. These fasts were less about self-denial than carving out space in one’s day to commune with God.
That's really what fasting hopes to accomplish. It turns our attention away from our personal wants and needs so we can realign our lives with the things that God requires of us. But how can we know what those things are? The Great Commandment gives us the best place to start. “Love God with all you’ve got,” Jesus says. “And love your neighbor the same way you want to be loved.” In theory, that sounds fairly basic. In practice, however, it gets complicated very quickly, because the actions that Jesus commands us to take require us to make time to do them.
So we look at our days and evaluate how much of them we spend on ourselves—not only the “nice to have” moments of relaxation and pleasure, but also the “have to have” times that require concerted effort and sacrifice to make room for God and others. Can we surrender an hour’s sleep to spend it in loving communion with our Maker? Can we let go of a task that feels so urgent to us that we build our day around it and, instead, devote that time to helping someone else?
And what about our hearts? Can we consciously set aside our need for love and all of its trappings long enough to put God first? Can we harness our soul’s emotions to draw satisfaction from sacrifice, instead of searching for gratification—in some cases, going so far as avoiding emotionally fraught situations—that makes us feel good? Can we reorient our thoughts to realize the love we offer to others is every bit as important as the love we seek for ourselves?
These are hard questions that require vigilant attention. They insist on conscious awareness of opportunities to “turn our plates over”—not merely in the literal sense of a nutritional fast, but in the figurative sense of carving out time and space for God and neighbor. As we continue our Lenten progress, it’s vital that we remember God gets no glory in our sacrifice. The fast is meant to open windows to express love for God and those around us. A love fast that turns away from our needs and desires creates a love feast that will nourish and sustain us long after we depart Lent's season of consecration.