Lenten Fast Update

Since 23 Things is covering fasting this week I thought it would be good to update you on how it went with my Lenten fast from Soft

Designer label for 2 litre Coca-Cola bottle

Designer label for 2 litre Coca-Cola bottle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Drinks. We will do it FAQ style.

Did you make it the entire time?

No. I technically didn’t start on time because I was running in a Half Marathon and wanted a little celebratory soda pop post race. Ash Wednesday was three days before the race so I started my fast on the Monday after Ash Wednesday.

Did you eliminate all sugary caffeinated drinks?

No. Sweet Ice Tea became a new favorite but it still wasn’t a replacement and there were days when I cursed my Snapple because it was not a Coca Cola.

What helped you through the fast?

Somewhere, I read a quote from Lauren Winner that said something about whenever we are overcome with craving for the item we are fasting from we should be reminded of how our desire for God should be just as great. The fast reminded me often of how much I need God in my life.

Was it difficult?

Not as difficult as I expected. There is an amazing discovery that happens when you realize that you don’t have to meet every desire and that if you go without, the world still spins and life isn’t that bad. It is good because I am becoming less and God is becoming more.

What did you get out of it?

The biggest insight was the daily reminder of Jesus and his sacrifice. We, as Christians, do such a poor job of remembering our Lord, even during Christmas and Easter. This fast brought to my mind on a regular basis why I was doing this. Then I would remember Jesus’ sacrifice and be underwhelmed by my poor excuse for a sacrifice. It is a shame that I am so feeble-minded that I can so easily misplace Jesus in my head but this fast kept him in the forefront.

Soft Drinks It Is

On Monday, I posted about Lent and how to participate in it this year. I have wrestled with what it is that I need to give up for Lent. I thought about giving up Twitter or maybe gossip or negativity but I went back to what I said about the connection between the body and the spiritual life. I determined I needed to pick a food item.

I thought about my love of bananas but that didn’t have quite the impact that I was looking for. Desserts might have been a good one but I wanted something that had more of a daily, even hourly impact on my life. Even though I have fasted from this before, I thought I needed to do it again. So, for Lent, I am giving up Soft Drinks.

I am addicted to Cokes like many people are addicted to coffee. I plan my day around getting a Coke and usually have to talk myself out of getting one early in the morning and late in the afternoon. I am often rationalizing reasons to drink one. All of this to say, this will be a real sacrifice for me and something that I will have to rely on God’s help to get through. Yes, consumable items can have that much of a hold on you.

But Lent is not about me and my achievements, it is about preparing for the celebration of Easter. Through this fast and a deeper commitment to Christ, I hope to make this Lenten season a powerfully moving one full of experiences with God and a transformed heart.

Those of you who are joining me in participating in Lent, I will pray that God will reveal himself to you through this experience.

Come Lord Jesus!

Best of Christian Life Hacker: Eliminate to Illuminate

Since the past month and a half has been pretty intense here on Christian Life Hacker, I thought it might be good to revisit some of the posts that epitomize the Christian Life Hacker faith style.  This post makes the point that change starts with cutting out distractions:

Eliminate to Illuminate

If I am not careful, my stack of books to be read can grow by the day. I have never met an interesting website that I didn’t want to subscribe to. If I enjoy a blog or writer I am never satisfied with reading just a few things by them, I have to read their entire body of work. If I find a workout or nutrition program interesting, I want to follow it to the letter even though half of what is being asked doesn’t apply to me or requires too much money or time. Call me obsessive compulsive, a nerd, or even crazy, but what it really comes down to is that I consistently and foolishly think that I can add infinitely more to my life and that somehow that is a good thing.

The truth is, the only effective way to change is by first eliminating all that is a distraction, a burden, or time waster. No one followed Jesus without sacrificing something, maybe even something that was good. Even if we have many Godly things in our lives or Church activities that fill our schedule, we may need to cut some of these things out of our lives so that we can make room for God in an intentional way.

Over the last few years, I have stopped following every sport that showed up on Sports Center and streamlined the teams and events that I will let myself get fanatical about. I have tried to keep the list of books that I am reading at one time down to two so that I can take notes and fully consider what I am reading. I have stopped checking email obsessively and have become okay with emails gathering in my inbox or going unanswered. I no longer feel the need to read a magazine from cover to cover. I have been known to take whole months and devote them to one area of interest or activity instead of being thinned out by trying to keep up with multiple interests.

I mention all of this to possibly help you realize that if you have visions of including more prayer in your life, or reading through entire chapters of the Bible, or being more consistent with your Spiritual Enrichment Workout, you are going to have to eliminate something that you currently do. Piling on things to your already busy schedule cannot be sustained and will only lead to frustration and guilt.

My Elimination Experiment: Sports Fast

Texas Rangers (baseball)

Image via Wikipedia

Today ends my week long elimination experiment. In previous posts, I proposed that for one week we fast, or eliminate,  something that has an unusual hold on our attention or time. I chose to go a week fasting from sports. Here is how it went:

First of all, it was kind of a relief. With all of the hype and attention given to the Super Bowl I was ready for a break from 24/7 sports talk. Because I live in the Dallas area, I was interested in the analysis of DFW as a Super Bowl host city but I moved past that without much trouble.

What was really hard for me was not obsessing over the Michael Young saga. I am a lifetime Texas Rangers’ fan and a long time admirer of Michael Young. There is a possibility that he will be traded from the team that he has served faithfully for more than 10 years. Normally, I would follow all of the chatter and rumors surrounding this story and I did intentionally search this story out a couple of times but only to catch a headline about it and not to read every word on the topic.

What I found to be the most silly aspect was a sudden panic I felt last Thursday when I thought it was NBA All Star Weekend. I literally had this thought, “Oh no, am I missing the NBA All Star Game?” It was the exact same feeling I get when I miss an assignment or duty at work or forget to get an item at the grocery store; over a basketball game!

Honestly, I needed the break from sports and I think God knew what he was doing when he led me to do this. My life became really hectic and stressed this past week when our daughter when in for surgery, the class that I am teaching started to have papers to grade, and the small group that I am leading began. Plus, I am becoming more and more committed to pursuing many of the themes and emphasis of this blog and learning how I can share what I have learned with others. I appreciated the extra space in my life to see what God has in store for me in these areas.

Through my fast, I have, for a time, placed sports in its proper perspective while pursuing things that have broader meaning and significance. I haven’t decided exactly how I am going to break my fast officially but when I did turn on sports talk radio last night and heard talk about the NFL seven months in advance of its next season, I didn’t have too much of a desire to jump back into my previously sports obsessed existence.

How about you? Did you eliminate something last week? How did it go?

The Next Great Fad: The Sports Fast

This is a picture of "Cowboys Stadium&quo...

Image via Wikipedia

I used to carry a small transistor radio around my house so that I wouldn’t miss a pitch of a Texas Rangers’ game. No, this wasn’t just in my halcyon youth but well into my 30s. I used to read Sports Illustrated cover to cover every week and fumed when I realized that my issue was sometimes missing articles that others received. I may have been one of only 15 people who actually watched the live broadcast of the US vs. Spain basketball Gold medal game of the 2008 Olympics; played at 3:00 in the morning. I recently read about a couple in Alabama who missed their daughter’s wedding because it conflicted with an U. of Alabama football game.

Quick philosophy discussion –  Our culture is awash in Postmodernism. This, in the simplest terms, is a breakdown of Big Stories. In other words, there is no large theme that holds culture together. Former Big Stories such as religion, duty, science, or the American Way have been reduced to little stories. So we have thousands of little stories and a fragmented society. Who is to say that my story is less important than your story? This contributes to an increase in fanaticism in our culture. We are placing emphasis that should be reserved for larger, more meaningful stories on to ideas, events, and happenings that hold very little meaning; such as celebrity, pets, veganism, etc.

Sports may be the biggest small to Big Story of them all and while cultures in the past were symbolized by their churches or government buildings, our culture, at least in the DFW Metroplex, is defined by the world’s largest domed stadium. On Sunday, that domed stadium will be hosting the biggest sporting event of the year. But on Monday, I will be shutting off my sports talk radio and my sports Twitter feeds, and my multiple times a day ESPN.com habit and trying to create a week thinking about the Biggest Story the Universe has ever known – God’s work of redemption and action on his creation.

Now that is something to be fanatical about.

‘Society’s Policy’ Can Damage Your Christian Life

The Seven Storey Mountain

Image via Wikipedia

“We live in a society whose whole policy is to excite every nerve in the human body and keep it at the highest pitch of artificial tension, to strain every human desire to the limit and to create as many new desires and synthetic passions as possible, in order to cater to them with the products of our factories and printing presses and movie studios and all the rest.”
Thomas Merton (The Seven Storey Mountain)

The Merton quote above paints a stark picture of a society that is addicted to falseness and superficiality.  Do you agree with his assessment or is it an overstatement? What can we eliminate from our lives to help break this addiction to artificial desire and “synthetic passions?” Maybe then we will experience the God whose existence is rich, deep, unfathomable, powerful, and unceasing.

One thing that we can do is simply eliminate the amount of information clutter in our lives. I find that the more information that is flooding my way the more jumbled and distracted my mind becomes and the more susceptible I am to the falseness that Merton describes. Here are a few things I do to limit my information intake:

1. Take a real lunch break – I am such an information junkie that I could spend my entire lunch break surfing the web and reading countless web sites but it leaves me disjointed and jumbled. I try to get out of the building, take a book of fiction, and just disengage for a while.

2. Listen to more music – instead of listening to news as I get ready for the day I listen to a CD, instead of listening to sports talk radio in the car I listen to my MP3 player. It really helps at the end of the day when I need that “cool down” period to move from work mode to family mode.

3. Keep the Sabbath – I try to get all of my “honey dos” and errands done on Saturday so that Sunday is open for worship, rest and time with family. We have to unplug from the “tyranny of the urgent” and just be for a time.

Has any of our discussion over the last three days given you some thoughts on what you will be intentionally eliminating from your life next week? Again, I will be going on a Sports Fast from Monday through Sunday. I would encourage you to pray about it and make it an activity that God is involved in from the very beginning. I would also caution you to be wary of choosing something that is too big and too difficult. If you have not had much experience with fasting you will want to start small and make it doable.

What Snow Days Tell Us About Our Spiritual Life

As I type this, I have just seen come across my email a notice that my work place will be closed today due to inclement weather. I

have also learned that my daughters’ school will be closed as well. What makes these types of days so much fun for kids, and adults too, is that our routines are broken up and the possibilities for fun and enjoyment seem endless.

We have all daydreamed while sitting at work about what we would be doing if we weren’t at work right then and we are not usually thinking about laundry or yard work. These snow days create a new reality for us, they allow us to think about our existence in a new way, they allow us to live out a day without the normal constraints that seem to hold such a tight grip on us. Sure, some of this thinking is false but for one day at least everything seems bright and relaxed and open to joy, all because of a simple change in our weekly pattern.

This is similar to what we allow to happen when we fast. We are not tortuously depriving ourselves to make us more holy or more austere. We are simply,  intentionally creating an environment that is different enough to allow our perspective on God and his work in our life to become more visible and meaningful. By eliminating something such as food, or anything that is routine or pervasive in our lives, even for a short time, we are giving our existence  just enough of a jolt that meaningful things such as our spiritual life, which usually gets pushed aside, can be dealt with and contemplated in a refreshing way.