As we approach the end of the first week of the Great Fast, this verse from today’s readings caught my attention. It is exactly what the Great Fast is meant for us to accomplish. So often people think fasting is about food, when in reality it is about our ego and selfish desires. I often think just how much more peaceful the world would be if this verse from Proverbs was dripping continually from our tongue. Each half of this verse is vital to a proper understanding of the Great Fast.
We journey every day from person to person, and situation to situation, placing our trust “somewhere” in order to maneuver through the waters of life. We trust the engineers who designed the bridge we cross. We trust the police to keep us safe. We trust our teachers to instill proper knowledge in our minds. We trust the neighbor to keep watch over our home when we travel. In each of these situations, though, trust was earned by direct experience; either directly such as our trustworthy neighbor, or indirectly through our city’s licensing boards. In each case we do not extend trust lightly but through careful evaluation, sometimes leaving us “burned” when someone we believed was trustworthy failed to hold up his end of the bargain. In fact, we’ve all been hurt or taken advantage of by someone who has then lost our trust.
So it isn’t without hesitation that we read this verse from Proverbs and doubt our ability to put its words into action. How can we test the Lord and determine His trustworthiness? With other people, we can evaluate them based upon direct experience, but how can we directly experience God? On the other hand, we have constant direct experience of our own wisdom, and while it may sometimes fail us, at least we know what to expect. At least when our wisdom fails, we have only ourselves to blame!
That is where the Great Fast begins to make sense. Through our fasting and increased prayer and Church attendance for the Sacraments (all three are necessary for a proper and balance Great Lenten journey), we are given the opportunity to, if not directly experience God, at least to build direct experience of scenarios is which we risk placing our trust in Him. If we can experience enough “successful scenarios” we could make an internal logical argument to build up the trust in God by slowly adding great risk.
For example: We “risk” hunger by fasting from meat on Wednesday and Friday. After experiencing that we “won’t die” just because we fast from meat, we learn to trust God with our hunger. After weeks of realizing we are no longer hungry, nor are we dead from not eating meat, we are willing to go a little further and trust God with other food items. Eventually, we find that keeping the fast hasn’t hurt us in the least, and may have even helped our bodies become healthier, so we extend the logic of trusting God into other areas of our life. We create a log of experiences in which trusting God has been a safe venture, so we are more willing to trust Him with issues of greater importance than just what to eat for lunch. Next thing we know, we have placed our trust in Him with all our heart.
Putting aside our own wisdom is most likely the single most difficult thing we are asked to do by God, not because it is impossible, but because we are most knowledgeable about ourselves. We know our strengths and failings, even if we choose to ignore both. When Jesus says, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me,” (Mark 8.34) He is challenging us to the greatest struggle of our life. He calls us to this challenge, not because He is on some ego trip, but because He knows our wisdom will eventually fail us. He knows that unless we are willing to trust in HIS wisdom, we will always fall short. We know this too but we’ve just learned how to tolerate the failure of our wisdom. Now it’s time to learn to trust in the success of His wisdom.
Engage the Great Fast! You’ll build a plethora of experiences of trusting in God. Eventually you’ll allow Him your whole heart.