Failing at Our Lenten Fasts

"I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word."  (BCP 265)

I love Lent.  I always have.  Or I should say, there are aspects of Lent that I truly do love and enjoy. I have always enjoyed times of when I am permitted to be by myself in periods of reflection and self-examination.  I also enjoy Lent as a time for purposeful prayer and meditation on God’s holy Word.  However, there are also certain aspects of Lent where I truly struggle – specifically, the areas of fasting and self-denial.  I remember one year I gave up desserts and meat (all meat – including poultry and fish).  I remember that by the third week of Lent, all I could think about was ham and pies, burgers and pastries.  Sadly, I couldn’t do it.  The temptations and cravings were too much for me and I cheated (with a chocolate brownie sundae if I remember correctly.)  I remember I was devastated.  “Why couldn’t I give up desserts for just little over a month?”  However, I learned a lot about myself that year, because failing at our Lenten practice, whatever it might be, is, I believe, one of the purposes of Lent. 

Let me clarify, our purpose in Lent is not to fail at our fast or our Lenten practice; but rather, to use what happens during that fast or practice as a starting point for self-examination and reflection. 

These Lenten invitations go hand-in-hand.  We fast and self-deny, which in turn provides a basis for our self-examination.  Our self-examination in turn informs our prayer life.  Our prayer life is supported through our reading and meditating on God’s holy Word, which informs our life and our actions.  It is a perfect circle, each one independent yet inter-dependent upon the other.  

Because it is rooted in perfect-ness, failure should not be seen as a negative.  Rather, it is and should always be seen as a starting point for beginning again.  For example, we might ask ourselves, “Why couldn’t I give up chocolate?” “or meat?” “or pastries?” “or ice cream?” “or Facebook?” “or coffee?” “or sarcasm?” “or …? (you fill in the blank)” for a full 40 days?  It is the foundational source of our self-examination. 

My own failures allowed me to ask, “Why?”  “Why was I so obsessed with these cravings?”  “What was it about food or coffee or whatever that consumed my whole being?” (Pun not intended.)  Through the self-examination that accompanied the successes and failures of my Lenten practices, I was able to forgive myself for my weaknesses.  I was also able to learn much about the source of strength that was hidden deep within me.   Overall, my self-examination helped inform me in ways that continue to inform me today.  I was able to grow, knowing that I am stronger than my cravings, and stronger than my weaknesses – and that my strength comes from a place of grace, compassion, forgiveness and Love – my strength came from God. 

The goal of Lent is so that we can learn about ourselves – our “true selves” as Fr. Richard Rohr might say – the self that God created us to be – right here and right now.  And so I pray that you accept the invitation of Ash Wednesday to engage in the observance of a holy Lent, and that you embrace all that it has to offer – the fasts and self-denial – the self-examination and re-turning to God – the prayers and meditations – and most of all the successes and failures of each – and that you do so from a place of grace, compassion, forgiveness and Love – knowing that you are indeed Loved by God.  

Blessings to you this holy Lent. 

Fr. Bill+