How do we go about making God a priority? For when we discuss fasting, what we are really trying to sort out is how we go about getting our priorities in order. So, when we think about fasting, we must guard against making our fasting only a matter of willpower. It must be, rather, about removing idols for a time from our lives and not letting them get into the way of God.
So on Day 2 of the Preparing for Lent Novena, we will explore what we need to do in order to set our relationships right, both with God and with others. Because our priorities do not usually get out of whack all at once. They usually slide away a little at a time.
This is why it is that we need to be intentional and deliberate about our choices when it comes to God and the spiritual life. It is why, for example, I go on a retreat at least once a year. I know my priorities get mixed up and I need the silent prayer so that, trying to imitate Jesus who retreated from time to time, so too do I. I need to wait and listen.
So this day of the novena is about seeking to identify what it is we need to do in order to set our relationship with Jesus aright. So where is it that you need the presence of Jesus and his grace to help you grow closer to Him? For that is what today is all about.
Making God a Priority
When Moses delivered the ten commandments to the people, they were told not to have idols before the Lord. Why? One reason is that when we give into have idols in our lives, it can be the case that these idols provide the illusion that life is good. An idol is anything that takes the place of God.
In his book the Confessions, (which, by the way, we are now reading as a Friar Book Club selection, Saint Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” It can feel really uncomfortable to be restless. And so, rather than waiting upon God to take away our restlessness, we seek idols.
This is what happened when in the book of Exodus we find Aaron making a golden calf. We hear that Moses was delayed coming down the mountain. We know that the people were quite insecure. Time and again whenever things became uncomfortable they grumbled and complained.
So when Moses does not come back in a timely manner, the people search for something to represent God, the God who brought them out of the land of Egypt. But they do not trust this God. They want to replace God with an inanimate object. In that way they have some control over their discomfort.
But the effect of this action was to remove the God who actually did delivered the people out of Israel with something incapable of being God. This is what we try to do every time we seek to find something that removes anything unpleasant in our lives.
Discovering The Idols That We Seek
The simple answer is, of course, to get rid of them. But the challenge to making God a priority is that we are not always aware of when we are not making God a priority. I know that there are times I miss when I am acting our of the desire to make something an idol.
But on another level I have learned that sometimes there are behaviors that can lead me to thinking about creating idols. For example, when I am tempted to purchase something for myself, especially electronic or technology devices, I need to ask myself if I really need this or if I simply am shopping to fulfill another desire to make an idol.
So the first question to examine is if there are some things in your that keep you from making God a priority. Perhaps is it not about shopping, maybe it is something else. But with a little self-examination we might discover the times and behaviors which signal we are seeking an idol, and not making God a priority.
Fasting is about sacrifice
One aspect of fasting, the most important I would argue, is about reducing the ways we can make ourselves an idol. What I mean is not denigrating myself, but rather helping myself to think more about God. I am also not suggesting we ignore the appropriate ways we should be taking care of ourselves.
But I think for many of us it is important to identify those ways in which we can become selfish. And so fasting is not simply about God, but also about the many relationships we should be aware of that by selfishness we close off from ourselves.
So I would suggest authentic fasting is about increasing my awareness that I am not the center of the universe, or as I sometimes say to my students, “the earth revolves around the sun, it does not revolve around you.”
So if fasting is the way we go about making God a priority, then it is really important to honestly assess where it is we are not making God a priority. But it is important, I think, to keep the focus upon God and our neighbor. This is the way the Law of the Old Testament is summarized. And so making God a priority is a good catch phrase for fasting because it reminds us of why we are doing what we are doing: we are making God a priority.
So How Do I Know What Fasting Looks Like to Me?
As I mentioned, it is not always easy to identify the ways in which we should go about fasting. It cannot always be clear to us how we are creating idols for ourselves. If it were easy, for example, most people concerned about growing in faith would be able to go about fasting quite easily. So here are some general things to try and consider.
Ask a Friend for Help
I have tried to seek some advice from other people, friends and others who know me well to make suggestions about what I should do for Lent. Sometimes the suggestions provided surprise me, but in general I have found it to be a helpful exercise to grow into deeper relationship with God.
And there is another benefit as well. It has strengthened my friendships and other relationships. It has given me a better understanding of myself. Self-awareness is a good skill to develop. And this can be a side benefit for us.
What Can’t You Live Without?
One way to develop an awareness about how to choose something for fasting is to ask ourselves a simple question. What can’t you live without? What item would you immediately replace if it went missing? Fasting from something on this list could be a good way to go about making God a priority.
So if it is your phone, for example, maybe you pick one day a week (or more) not to use it and to turn it off. The trick is to ask what type of thing takes me away from the important relationships in my life. For the interesting thing about making God a priority is that when we do so, we are often in better relationship with others.
What does God want you to do?
The major purpose of the Preparing for Lent Novena is to bring what we do for Lent into a prayerful relationship with God and others. So take some time, find some way to ask how you should go about fasting. Make a sincere request of God to help you to know how to go about fasting and expressing that you will attempt to be making God a priority, and wait to see if you find an answer to the question as to how you should go about fasting.
Bible Verses to Ponder
Reflection Questions to Ponder
When you think of fasting, what comes to mind?
If you were to think about how you spend your money, what do you spend your discretionary income on?
If you were to think about your time and how you spend your time, what types of activities take you away from your relationship with God?
Fasting is often mentioned in conjunction with prayer. What is the relationship for you between fasting and prayer?
What makes you apprehensive about fasting?
Heavenly Father, We praise your name because you are so loving and so kind and so good to us. We praise you and thank you because you are just so good. You pour out so many blessings upon us. You are always with us and we know you always love us in all we do.
And we thank you so much for for loving us and keeping us in existence. If you were to ever forget us we would cease to exist. Help us to feel this love from you. Help us to recognize the ways in which you teach us how to love, and you help us to love.
Help us to know what keeps us from loving you more. Help us to know what takes us away from loving others. Help us to address the ways we are selfish. Help us never to ignore you God, who love us so much.
And so we make this prayer in the name of your son, Jesus, for He is Your Son, You sent Him to save us, you showed us your overwhelming love for each of us by having Him die on the cross for us. In His name we pray. Amen.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Other Helps to Grow in the Spiritual Life
Participate in the Friar Book Club, where you can read along with the Confessions of Saint Augustine, and soon the Meditations for Time of Retreat and the Companion to the Summa by Walter Farrell, OP.
Search our website for devotional prayers. You can ask for people and the friar to pray for you, and you can pray for others. There are three ways you can pray the rosary. You can pray the traditional rosary (the one you may have learned as a child). But you can also pray the rosary in a tradition that comes from the Dominicans or you can pray the rosary in a tradition that comes from the Lasallians. All of the links to the rosary come with audio recordings so that you can pray the rosary in the car, on your way to work, or anytime you are otherwise occupied.
There will be other resources which you can find as well. The high school students I teach and work with will offer a reflection each day. Of course all those who ask me to pray should know that I do each day, twice a day.
And sometimes it is helpful to know what is going on in the Church, and so from time to time I post news stories from the Church too. I pray that all of you will find a deep and fulfilling personal relationship with Jesus. Nothing is more important or able to change your life than that. And I pray that this relationship with Jesus changes your life in every way. It can.
When you see the world as God sees the world, it does not mean there are not hard times or that there is not still suffering and sin, but it does mean that none of these things do you need to experience on your own. Be sure to come back tomorrow.