Well, Lent has come to a close. The countdown to your first cup of coffee in 40 days — not to mention the celebration of our Lord’s resurrection — has come to pass. Growing up in the Anglican church, I have had a number of different approaches to fasting in Lent. I’ve given up little things like chocolate, coffee, or alcohol. Some years I’ve elected to not fast from anything, and instead have tried to add in other spiritual practices. Other years I’ve ignored it all together. Out of all these years though, I’ve never really felt called to give something up, or to add something in. I’ve tended to engage in Lent out of a sense of tradition.
This year has been different.
Leading up to Lent, I felt very distracted and distant from God. Something was getting in the way. God used our sermon series Love Money and the balance of my student-sized bank account to show me what the issue was: I was pursuing material goods with more zeal than I was pursuing Him.
He was right. And it scared me.
So for Lent this year, having examined myself, listened to God, and seen what was getting in the way of me loving Him fully, I have fasted from consumerism. Or at least tried to, I admit I bit off way more than I could chew on this one. I have stumbled along the way. I have caved and bought myself things. But through these 30-some odd days, I have felt the closeness of God’s presence in my relationship with money.
If you are getting the impression that this fast is countercultural, you are absolutely correct. But it cannot be elevated to monastic levels. It has been so difficult turning my back on the materialism which our culture readily embraces. In fact, I have failed miserably. I won’t shift the blame for the ways which I have failed in this fast onto our broken cultural system of consumerism.
But in my brokenness and failure, God has met me.
Instead of laying out a step-by-step guide to beating materialism (because God knows I have no idea how to do that), I simply want to share a few things that God has taught me in the most challenging Lenten fast I have ever taken on.
On Ash Wednesday, my computer stopped working. Being a student in the thick of studying for midterms and preparing term papers, this was the worst time for a computer to break down. Having just committed to give up consumerism, this was also an awful time for this to go wrong. My heart was panicked and divided. Questions raced through my mind. Having given up buying things, how could I replace my computer? Could I even afford it? Could I get by with writing my papers on a friend’s computer or at the library?
But God met me in my panic and reassured me. He provided for me. I took my MacBook into the Apple store, fully expecting my warranty to be up, and having to deal with a complete computer failure. The problem was much smaller than I expected, simply a wire out of place. And my warranty was good until the end of the month. God provided something better than I could have hoped for myself. None of my work was lost. It didn’t cost me a penny.
When worried and panicked, He reassured me. It was like He was saying to me, “You can trust me. You can rely on me. I will provide what is best for you.” In this experience God again showed me a place where money was getting in the way of my relationship with Him. Not only was I looking to money and material goods to find my satisfaction, I was also using money as a tool for self-sufficiency. In doing this I was missing out on the good things that God had for me, and the beautiful way in which He provided them for me.
God’s redemption and renewal happens in the places where we fall short. Whether that would be in the small act of failing in a Lenten fast, or in the large systems of consumerism and materialism which seem inescapable.
God didn’t just remind me of His provision through a computer repair. He did this through other people’s generosity — be it a meal, or some extra work. God provided for me richly in this time where I have tried to take a step back from consumerism and self-reliance. He reminded me that He is my father who I can rely on, and that He loves me and provides for me because I am His child.
The right response to this is gratitude. The right response to every act of God’s provision whether it would be miraculous as multiplied loaves and fish, or as mundane as getting a computer repaired under warranty is thankfulness. I am reminded of James 1:17 — Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Every good gift is from God, even in the midst of our cultural addiction to consumerism. Whether we acknowledge, rely on, or thank Him doesn’t change where the gifts come from. For me it has taken removing the self-reliant and consumeristic patterns in my life in this season of Lent to realize this.
I thought at the outset of this 40-day journey, I thought I would merely be removing an area of indulgence in my life (like I had with chocolate or caffeine in the past years) in order to practice discipline during Lent. But it has been so much more than that. It has brought me to new depths of obedience to, and reliance on God. It has made me realize even more that the good things in my life are not from me or from others, but from God Himself. It has helped me to understand my identity as a child of God.
This time around, my Lenten fast has left a mark on me that will last beyond Easter. Even though I have not kept my fast perfectly, I see evidence of God’s transforming work in how I interact with money, material goods, and our western consumer culture. I know that my heart is fickle, and is so easily distracted and consumed by other things, but I also know that God is more than sufficient for my deficiencies.
His redemption and renewal happens in the places where we fall short. Whether that would be in the small act of failing in a Lenten fast, or in the large systems of consumerism and materialism which seem inescapable, God is at work. We can rely on Him in these places, trusting the Father for His good provision, allowing Him to consume and transform our hearts, and responding to Him in praise and thanksgiving.