I read something today that I’ve honestly never thought about before. An article by Fr. Daniel Merz at USCCB.org points out that Adam and Eve were asked to fast. To fast is to limit oneself in some way, to do without. God asked Adam and Eve to “do without” that one tree. As we know, they chose to break that fast.
That tree, and the breaking of that fast, symbolize the choices we have in life, the free will which is the greatest of human gifts. Without free will, there are no relationships because there is no love. Without free will, we aren’t human.
Adam and Eve lived in a paradise of sorts. And yet even in this paradise, they were asked to fast. This simple idea helps us understand fasting – its purpose, its goodness, and why it should still be part of our lives. Most of us modern Americans live in a kind of paradise in the sense that we have every single thing we need or want practically within arms’ reach. Want entertainment? Get it. Want news? Got it. Want food? Open the fridge.
Fasting is a deliberate attempt on our part to put the brakes on “having it all.” It seems that even God, who wanted the very best for Adam and Eve, thought it wise to give them limits. Of course this wasn’t to cause suffering or to impose his “rules” on them. Perhaps the fast simply allows the opportunity to live more deliberately, to make choices. There’s a link between fasting and freedom.
I like a good old-fashioned Lenten fast. I like the idea of giving something up. It’s so simple. It’s so obvious. It’s so good. I know there’s a lot of buzz out there about not giving up sweets or alcohol or any of those very old-school things. I disagree. Put the brakes on. Exercise your free will. Feel the freedom of saying “no.” Because that link between fasting and freedom is really a link between fasting and love. Our Lenten fast is a deliberate offering of our freedom for the sake of the other. Perhaps it is a simple offering of love between you and Jesus. Or perhaps when you fast, you turn that sacrifice into a material gift for someone in real need, someone who doesn’t have a “material paradise” at their fingertips.
Another way fasting helps us love is simply by training us to “put the brakes on” in other areas of our lives. The discipline we gain from giving up concrete things like food, drink, and entertainment, can help us learn to give up those more abstract things like gossip, grudges and impatience. If we have the strength to say no to an afternoon snack, maybe we will have the strength to walk away from that hurtful conversation at work.
The goal of Lent is no different than the goal of life: to love God and love our neighbor. I know I can do that better when I have self-control and when I live deliberately, when my life is not about easy living but about slowly turning myself outward, toward the other – God and my neighbor. There’s a link between fasting and love. Lent is the right time to discover it.