On Fat Tuesday, the day observers of Lent have historically glutted themselves with donuts and king cakes, fried food and pancakes, my husband and I binged the last few episodes of West Wing. It’s our third time through the series and normally we love it enough to not binge it. But this year our Lenten fast is from television, and even though I know who wins the election and who finally gets together, I wanted to finish season seven before Wednesday. We often joke about how we much prefer the idealized political discourse and bipartisan camaraderie at work in West Wing to the reality playing out in our world today.
Maybe you like the political landscape today, but there are other realities from which you run headlong into whatever makes those realities feel less real. You, like me, chase down a counterfeit of the real thing. Perhaps you desire to be in love or to be romanced and you satiate with the drama of The Bachelor, or perhaps you desire to be wanted or needed and you satiate with social media, or perhaps you desire applause or admiration and you satiate with being the center of attention wherever you find yourself. Whatever it is we satiate ourselves with, it reveals the root of our desires. Norman Wirzba writes, “Lent teaches us that far too often we live a counterfeit life. It shows us that we have settled for a poor and degraded version of the real thing, which is life in its vibrant freshness and abundance.”
To give up TV for Lent, for us, is more about giving up the fantasy world we prefer to the real world in which we live. It’s hard to take our heads out of the West Wing world and insert it into US politics for us because the reality feels anything but “vibrant freshness and abundance.” But that’s precisely why it’s necessary that we do. As soon as the false world begins to feel better or more fulfilling than the age to come and the path to it, it is time to reorient our hearts. The fasting we do during Lent helps us do this. Wirzba writes earlier in the article I cited above, “If there is a ‘No’ that has to be said, it will be a ‘No’ directed to the distorting and degrading ways we have developed in appropriating these gifts. The problem is not with the things of this world. The problem is with us because we so readily misperceive and misuse what God has given us. We do not appreciate how in mishandling the gifts of God we bring ruin to ourselves and to the world while we are in the midst of having a good time.”
There is nothing wrong with television or West Wing or donuts or pancakes or social media or red meat or coffee, or whatever it is we fast from during Lent, but there is something wrong when we prefer these things to the real feast God has for us. And not just the feast to come, but the feast of today: our feast on Him.
The true joy of Lenten fasting is what we find in the absence of our counterfeit realities: fullness in Him. Fasting is never an ascetic discipline, intended only for deprivation or being found approved by God. Fasting is the means of true feasting—when all the fantasies fall away, and we see the good, faithful, kind, and generous God apart from the trappings of our counterfeit idols.