Show Thanks by Abstaining

By Graham Glover

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Last week was filled with four days of some epic eating, drinking, and smoking on my end. (Can any of you relate?) With no work, consecutive days of football, time on the golf course, and enough food to feed a small country, coupled with the company of extended family, Thanksgiving is clearly one of my favorite holidays of the year. (Thankfully I am not scheduled for an Army Physical Fitness Test, to include a weigh-in, until I report to my next duty station in January.)

One of the reasons I like Thanksgiving so much is because I get to indulge in three of my favorite things: eating, drinking, and smoking. (Rest easy my pietistic friends, I’m not advocating drunkenness or smoking illegal substances here. Just some garden variety gluttony and a mild form of debauchery.) You might say that my indulgences are borderline sinful. Ok, they’re sinful. Clearly sinful. I obviously ate and drank more than I should. I think my cigar intake was comparatively moderate, but certainly more than I usually partake in over a long weekend. And if recent history is any indication, this pattern of indulgence will continue during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. (As an aside, why are businesses open that week? Nobody wants to work. Give them the week off and I’m sure morale will improve in the office in the New Year!)

Enough about my sinful inclinations. Lest I be accused of advocating sin, or turning a blind eye to that which our Lord condemns, let me be clear that I’m not suggesting that sin is something to be mocked. I’m just admitting what I did and trying not to shy from the magnitude of my indulgence.

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But my Thanksgiving experience is really no different than what we Americans do on a regular basis. That is, we consume way more than we should, seldom taking the time to truly give thanks for the overabundance of food, drink (to include clean and running water), and other stuff living in this great country in 2015 affords.

It’s also no different than what we sinners do on a daily basis. That is, we so easily forget the overabundance of grace and forgiveness our Lord imparts to us. This, despite our constant failure to do that which He commands. We sin. Christ forgives. This is the pattern of our every day and all too often we Christians, who should clearly know better, fail to give thanks to the One whose birth we await and return we are now preparing.

I’m eating a lot less this week. I haven’t had an adult beverage since Saturday night. I doubt I’ll smoke a cigar until I graduate from the Chaplain Captains Career Course next week. Does this meager sacrifice of intake negate last week? Hardly. I think I’d have to starve myself for two weeks to negate the amount of calories I consumed over Thanksgiving.

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But why don’t I starve myself? Why don’t I deprive my body from the things it enjoys most? Starving myself doesn’t solve the temporal consequences of my Thanksgiving weekend binge. It does however give me the opportunity to truly give thanks for all that I have – by way of this world and the one yet to come.

What I’m getting at is that we Christians would be wise to practice the discipline of abstinence a lot more than most of us do. This is not a discipline that most Protestants, to include most Lutherans, do. In fact, we run from it like the plague. (And no, your petty Lenten fasts are not the same thing as abstinence). Like other things that the children of the Reformation do (or don’t do), this is understandable. We are so focused on keeping the doctrine of justification by grace through faith free from any works, that any talk of doing something for our faith makes us cringe.

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I think though that we ought to reconsider our abstaining from abstinence. There is goodness is abstinence. The Church has a long tradition of this discipline, especially during the seasons of Advent and Lent. Why? Because denying yourself what you most want, which typically is food and drink, helps in mastering the art of self-control. Abstinence won’t make one free from sin. It certainly doesn’t deliver one from sin. But abstinence can assist in helping us understand that we shouldn’t always allow our desires to dictate our actions. Abstinence also has the ability to bring us back to a more rigorous and regular prayer life. As our bodies cry out for what they are used to, why don’t we use these opportunities to cry out to the Lord for what we most need – that is, His grace and forgiveness.

I hope all of you will enjoy the fruits of the season that awaits us. May the weeks to come bring you a hearty appetite and an appreciation for a good cocktail and if you are so inclined, a relaxing smoke. May the weeks to come also give you a renewed appreciation and practice of the discipline of abstinence. For as we indulge in the gifts of our Lord, we can also deny our bodies from its desires, and in so doing give thanks by abstaining.

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One thought on “Show Thanks by Abstaining

  1. From my experience, the most difficult part of fasting is keeping attention off of yourself. First off, with a family, you have to tell them what you’re doing – and they watch you. A couple of years ago, I did lenten fast for the past 10 days, through Holy Week and broke my fast after the vigil. the next day, I sat and watched people scarf down ham at my in laws – not ready to get back to meat, yet. My fast became a topic of discussion.

    The second most difficult part is work and life, in general. I found that I wanted to be more engaged in Word and prayer but had no additional time for it. I was simply going about my day, as usual, but without food or caffeine. It takes about 3 days to get past the pangs and crankiness, then you get in the zone. But in the zone for what? Mere deprivation is not a goal.

    In my several forays into fasting, I have found health benefit and spiritual desire but the spiritual part was clouded by the attention or the demands of daily life. It left me disappointed. I have plans to do it, again, and I’m looking for a spot in my calendar where I can set aside at least a week without meetings, lunches, family parties, lenten or advent suppers at church, holidays…it is hard to live vocation and, at the same time, try to find a cave for fasting.

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