Fasting from Apathy (It’s about You. Not Those Who Work the System.)

It’s dangerously easy to fear myself into apathy. Recently, I participated in a conversation where we wondered if it was a good use of our time and resources to be helping those who may be “working the system”.  The goal of such a conversation can be noble enough: wanting the greatest chance for positive, life changing, impact. But in trying to rationalize the best ways to help those who are under the yoke of poverty and hunger we can rationalize away any pure acts of being the hands of Jesus. This can lead to apathy or even worse:  to playing God rather than obeying God.

Fasting is one of the Christian practices of the Lenten season. I am going through Ann Voskamp’s “40 Day Lent Devotional Journey”. The passage for Day 6 was Isaiah 58:6-10. I urge you to read it. It describes a true act of fasting is “to break every yoke”. It is to undo the straps of poverty: “share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house”.

I think it’s rather telling that if we fast from apathy in order to break the yokes on the poor, we get a lot of “THEN’s:

“THEN shall your light break forth like the dawn and your healing shall spring up speedily…THEN you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry and he will say, ‘Here I am.’…If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, THEN shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.”

I think the THEN’s reveal the poverty of spirit we are living in when we are not helping those who live in physical poverty.

That warning about pointing the finger had the power to point a finger right into my chest. If someone is “working the system” they have a hole in their soul that is deeper than the hole in their pocket. Who am I to define which kind of poverty is deserving of mercy? Who am I to decide that one yoke is heavier than another and therefore more or less worthy of my willingness to participate in breaking it?  And, when was it that I was given the power to read the hearts of men and women, and name their motivation?

Jesus came to preach good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives.  We are all poor, brokenhearted, captives with no room to point fingers.  As one who has been comforted and provided for, bestowed a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair – I get to offer this same wealth to those held captive by the yokes of poverty and brokenness.

And, THEN, as if Jesus hadn’t provide us with enough good things, we all receive those “THEN’s” listed in Isaiah 58:8-10.  Let’s not waste time fretting over being taken by those who supposedly are working the system.  That’s just gloomy musings.  It also may be a sign that you’re oblivious of the yokes that oppress you; yokes that are heavier than physical hunger.  Pour out yourself for the hungry and your gloom will be as the noonday.


Should I Stay, or Should I Go?

The Christian communities and denominations that I’ve been a part of have not put an emphasis on observing Lent in preparation for celebrating Easter.  Lent traditionally includes fasting, abstinence and penitence.  That sounds sacrificial but it may be that I have cheated myself by not participating in this custom.

One of the characteristics I admire in Mary, the mother of Jesus, is her staying power.  She was there at the cross enduring a pain only a mother could feel as she stayed and was witness to the torture and death of her child.   Another characteristic I admire is her trust in God at all costs; as displayed in her response when she found out she would be the mother of Jesus.  Certainly, the circumstances of her son’s life were not as she would have written them.  Her faith had staying power.

Staying with Jesus takes leaving your own agenda and taking up the cross.  Observing Lent can be a conscious choice to stay with Jesus and share in the cross.

I think we cheat ourselves and take Jesus lightly by making the time leading up to the celebration of Easter just another season of the year.  Easter is at risk of being recognized as just one special day rather than the joy filled answer to every day that led up to it and every day that has and will follow it.

I have the habit of looking at my calendar a lot.  I track time and I try to form it to my agenda.  My calendar is about planning, not believing; devising, not acknowledging; wondering, not hoping; going, not staying.

How would I be staying if I choose to observe Lent?  I’d be staying in the practice of repentance.  Staying in the reasons for the crucifixion of Jesus.  Staying in a place of remembrance; a place called promised hope.  Staying with what Jesus has done for me so I don’t get pulled to what my circumstances may do to me.

Our circumstances can pull us into striving or worrying or fear or anger or bitterness or any number of emotions and practices that suck the life out of us (and those around us).  Staying with Jesus opens our eyes to the hope we’ve been called to and the victory that has already been won on our behalf.  Staying gives us time to take in the abundance that’s been given to us and to cultivate gratitude.  Staying gives us opportunity to love Jesus more and makes us available to love others more.  And since love is why we were created and what we are called to, staying with Jesus in the practice of Lenten devotion, can give love staying power.

Forget the parked car analogy…”God can’t use a parked car” yah dee dah…  Lent may be the time to pull over, give the keys back to God and stay awhile.