But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:17-18
On Ash Wednesday, we read from Matthew 6 about the spiritual disciplines we practice during Lent, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Last Sunday's devotion was on almsgiving, yesterday's prayer, and today'syesterday's fasting.
I mentioned yesterday how I loved spending the night at my grandparents' Chambers home and hearing Grandma Annamae pray. In addition to being a prayer warrior, she was a fantastic baker, always baking something; persimmon pudding, pies, and cakes of all varieties, but especially cookies. She had the most delightful cookies; snickerdoodles, oatmeal raisin, peanut butter, and something I haven't had in years called an applesauce jumble.
Grandma was always happy to let me have some goodies, but she also wanted to ensure I ate dinner first. As a 4-year-old, that was a difficult message; all I could think about were those delicious cookies. The cookie jar called out to me from the countertop–that little devil on the shoulder–I would drag a kitchen chair over and help myself. I was caught with my hand in the cookie jar more than a few times. Grandma would gently scold me (but let me keep the cookies in my hand, never moving the cookie jar.)
Granted, this is a pretty innocent story of temptation. There was no long-term damage, and fortunately, the cookie jar didn't get broken–but it does illustrate how that lure works, at yearning for something we shouldn't have or need but still want.
In fasting or abstaining from something we enjoy, we are resisting temptation. As our stomachs begin to rumble or that craving starts, we turn our thoughts from our physical desires and urges to our spiritual growth. Instead of reaching for the cookie jar, we look inward, focusing on prayer and meditating. (In complete honesty, my 4-year-old self hadn't yet grasped this concept--I still went for the cookies.)
Jesus gives further instructions; we don't broadcast our fasting. We don't suck in our cheeks, avoid personal hygiene, and act miserable. No, we comb our hair, wash our bodies, and go about our regular days. This abstinence is a private thing between God and you. What is to be gained from our fast is gifted from God, not man.
Loving and compassionate God, thank you for your abundant and gracious gifts. You give so much, and often we take it for granted. Forgive us. During this time of abstinence, help us listen more attentively to your voice. Please help us to humble ourselves, putting your will above our own. Make us pliable clay to be molded into your vessel. Fill us, God, with your spiritual sustenance and guide us in sharing the fullness of your grace with others. Amen.