Originally posted Feb. 13, 2013, at A Front View Pew. Republished with permission of the author.
Those who have heard me tell the story about punching a boy in the lip during recess in first grade probably think that this post is about fighting and you are partially right. When I say I am going on a “fist fast,” I mean something a little different than that. Punching people isn’t something I have trouble with anymore, though I’ll admit sometimes I still feel like it.
There are things in our lives that function as barriers in our relationship with God. We have allowed them to interfere with that trust by, in effect, making those things into our gods. For some of us, it could be material things; stuff we buy just to satisfy our impulsive desires or stuff we consume that does not contribute to a healthy life.
But attitudes and behaviors can be walls that we erect and then lean on, first for support, then out of habit. We can use almost anything as a means of avoiding God without realizing it. We so fill our time with activities, well beyond the tasks that we must do, that we leave nothing for prayer. Rather than turn to God for help, we substitute something else we think will make us feel better, at least for now. They can be things that are not harmful in and of themselves, but when we use them to replace God, we have not only cheated ourselves but also the neighbor God calls us to love.
Have you ever offered a toddler some kind of treat to get them to let go of their death-grip on something you didn’t want them to have? How can God give us good things if our hands are always full?
Habitually criticizing ourselves, making excuses for our accomplishments, or deflecting compliments are all reliance upon habits that are not life-giving. Think of them as closed fists, hands that are unable to receive the good things God wants to give us.
As for me, like that little girl on the playground, I have made fighting into a habit — not using my fists in a literal sense, but figuratively. In my defiant struggle for independence, to do everything my way, I have been defensive against suggestions that I perceived as attempts to control my life. You can try telling me what you think I ought to do (I did eventually learn to at least be civil and won’t punch you now), but my internal fists will clench up and I will likely stop listening.
After I withdrew from the nursing program I was enrolled in for a year, my mother told me she never thought I would have made a good nurse anyway. “Why didn’t you tell me that before I started?” I said. “You wouldn’t have listened,” she replied, and I knew it was true.
So my fist fast is intended to be a prayerful recognition of those times I am tempted to grip other gods too tightly and asking God to open my hands to receive the life offered us all at the end of these 40 days.
Find a link to Anita Tebben Nuetzman’s blog A Front Pew View at Lutheran Blogs.