I grew up Catholic in a mixed denominational home. As a Catholic, I was supposed to (usually forgot outside of the house) give up meat on Fridays in Lent. It was also generally expected that I would give up something else for all of Lent. I also usually forgot this as well until a brilliant day sometime in my teen years when I decided I'd give up chocolate for Lent. (For those of you who don't know me or may have forgotten, I have a strong allergic reaction to caffeine. I can't eat chocolate.) And chocolate is what I have given up for Lent pretty much every year since.
I read an article within the past few years discussing the Islamic Ramadan. (Unfortunately, I do not have the link; so you'll just have to go look for your own article.) Fasting has never made much sense to me. I mean, your body needs energy to run. Why would you deprive it of necessary nutrients? Also, from the viewpoint of a Christian, there is nothing I can do to obtain salvation; so what does fasting really do for me anyway? But there were some points in the article and some experiences I've had within the last year that have helped me understand fasting a whole lot better...or at least find a purpose for it.
Fasting, in my opinion, is NOT about doing something for God or trying to get His attention. He's always watching you and caring about you; you don't need to get His attention. You've already got it! No, fasting is for the believer. Like God, hunger doesn't leave you. Normally, when one is hungry, they eat. But if you are fasting, hunger makes you think, "Why am I hungry? Oh, that's right. I'm fasting. And I'm fasting to remind myself to spend more time with God." Fasting brings believers closer to God, not because He sees us fasting and thinks we're wonderful to be around, but because we spend more time thinking about Him and reading His Word (the Bible). "Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord" (Deut 8:3 and Matt 4:4).
My Bible is my daily bread. This year for Lent, I've given up food. (Before you freak out, I have not given up juice, milk, atol, milkshakes, broth, tea, pop, or water. I'm already naturally dehydrated enough.)
My other thought is about the IdC or "Iglesia del Camino" (Church of the Path/Way) which is where I attend almost every Sunday while in Guatemala. Back in the day when I was engaged to a man who had plans to become a pastor, I thought a lot about having children and that if we could have them while he was in seminary, that would be best.
A common view of pastors (and missionaries) is that they are perfect, the best Christians. They will have perfect children who never get in trouble, and the parents themselves will never sin. Guess what? We're all sinners. We should do the best we can every day, but we are all sinners. We will never be free from sin, and our children will not be either. Freedom will come with salvation which will come at the end of time.
I know that I'm a missionary and I feel that my sending church in the States expects great things from me. Sometimes that puts a lot of pressure on me. I feel afraid to show failure and struggle to them and to you, my readers/supporters. However, the church I attend here is a bit different. We're a church of missionaries, pastors, evangelists, and the occasional seasonal Spanish student. We have a pastor who will admit almost weekly that he is not perfect. The regular attending congregation (normal attendees minus short-term missionaries and Spanish students) also admits their faults to one another. I mean, there are certain levels of confidence, but I have a couple with whom I can really be open. I talk to them about everything, and they talk to me about their lives too. We share our burdens, our joys, our sorrows, and sometimes a meal or two!
I'm a sinner. I sin. I bring those sins before my God with confidence that He will pardon them all. It's this world that scares me.