Faith Matters

Sacrifice can feel good

Column by Dan Hettinger
Posted

Fasting is not supposed to feel good and for those giving something up during Lent, don't quit now, there are only a few more days.

According to Christianity.About.com, not all Christian churches observe Lent. Lent is mostly observed by the Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Anglican denominations and also by Roman Catholics.

Eastern Orthodox churches observe Lent or Great Lent, during the six weeks or 40 days preceding Palm Sunday with fasting continuing during the Holy Week of Orthodox Easter. Lent for Eastern Orthodox churches begins on Monday (called Clean Monday) and Ash Wednesday is not observed.

The Bible does not mention the custom of Lent, however, the practice of repentance and mourning in ashes is found throughout the Holy Scriptures.

This year for Lent, I gave up carbohydrates, not just sweets. So as much as I enjoy potatoes, pasta and bread, they were out of my diet for the whole time and I did miss them. Some nights I just wanted a scoop of ice cream and the thought of sacrificing something seemed totally unnecessary.

"I worked hard today and don't ask for much. Don't I deserve a little treat here at the end of the day?" That thought process made perfect sense to me.

But as I used a little will power to do something that probably was good for me anyway, I began to lose weight and feel better. I recognize that my discipline was minimal compared to our Wounded Warriors or faithful spouses of a sick husband or wife or devoted parents of a troubled or addicted child.

My little "saying no" was part of a spiritual discipline to help me take a more thoughtful approach to the events of Holy Week and build up my anticipation and appreciation for the celebration of Jesus' resurrection from the dead and victory over death on Easter morning.

Observing a Lenten fast, my discoveries as a Hospice Chaplain and enduring a challenging chapter of life converged to reveal the value of facing negative emotions and experiencing the questions and pain that are present in life.

For most of my life I have avoided and denied negative emotions and did almost anything I could to experience feel good emotionally. But that leads to an overall superficiality and a lack of profound compassion. Jerry Sittser in his book, "A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss," writes, "The soul is elastic, like a balloon. It can grow larger through suffering."

Grief counselors guide people through, not around the pain that comes from loss.

There will be services in many churches around town on the Thursday and Friday before Easter. Friday, known as Good Friday, recognizes the historical event of the crucifixion of Jesus. The night before that was the Last Supper with the disciples, a washing of feet and the betrayal. It is my honor to speak to this event at the church I attend, Greenwood Community Church, on Thursday.

The first Maundy Thursday was an evening filled with perplexing revelations, excruciating tasks and a shocking turn of events. The Passover moon lit the garden but darkness permeated the events and emotions of the Sacrificial Lamb and his frightened followers.

Healthy emotional life and a salvation experience requires the dark and demented emotions of that night. It doesn't make sense. Words fail us. Our thoughts swirl in confusion looking for an answer. For that time we feel alone, unanswered, even betrayed by God. But it is a dark night of the soul we must travel through.

It won't feel good and it is not supposed to, but we will be more authentic in our emotions and wise in our approach to God and life. Then Resurrection celebration will be mature because the joy of our soul will have experienced the reality our need and pain and that will feel good.

Dan Hettinger is founder of the Jakin Group, a ministry of care and encouragement and author of Welcome to the Big Leagues. You can e-mail him at dan@welcometothebigleagues.org and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@Welcome2theBigs).