Matthew 21: 1-11 (MSG)

When they neared Jerusalem, having arrived at Bethphage on Mount Olives, Jesus sent two disciples with these instructions: “Go over to the village across from you. You’ll find a donkey tethered there, her colt with her. Untie her and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you’re doing, say, ‘The Master needs them!’ He will send them with you.”

This is the full story of what was sketched earlier by the prophet:

Tell Zion’s daughter,
“Look, your king’s on his way,
    poised and ready, mounted
On a donkey, on a colt,
    foal of a pack animal.”

The disciples went and did exactly what Jesus told them to do. They led the donkey and colt out, laid some of their clothes on them, and Jesus mounted. Nearly all the people in the crowd threw their garments down on the road, giving him a royal welcome. Others cut branches from the trees and threw them down as a welcome mat. Crowds went ahead and crowds followed, all of them calling out, “Hosanna to David’s son!” “Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!” “Hosanna in highest heaven!”

 As he made his entrance into Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken. Unnerved, people were asking, “What’s going on here? Who is this?”

 The parade crowd answered, “This is the prophet Jesus, the one from Nazareth in Galilee.”

I failed.

     This season for Lent I decided with the help and accountability of some friends to give up added sugar. No Dr. Pepper, no chocolate. No early morning Dunkin’ Donuts hazelnut iced coffee. No mac and cheese or packaged veggies or Sun Chips…Do you know how many things have added sugar? Almost everything.

      The first three weeks went by with some hard cravings in the beginning, but soon leveled out to normalcy. I did feel less bloated and more full at meals. Yet the boost of natural energy I thought I would gain had yet to make an appearance.

       When my unsweetened order for Dunkin’ came out in the drive-thru full of sugary hazelnut deliciousness, I couldn’t say no. I had paid for it. I felt like I deserved it. After I drank it, however, I beat myself up for it. Have I no control over my desires? I couldn’t last forty days without sugar? I told myself I’ll start again—this time even stricter, even more careful. A couple days later I ate a cookie with my cast after the performance of my senior theatre project.

       I quickly realized something about this fast that I never intended, but my human heart led me astray. My fast wasn’t about God or my solidarity with Jesus. It was about what I could do and what I could stand. Wow, I gave up sugar. What a strong will I have. I wasn’t taking away from myself to open my eyes to what God has for me. I was abstaining myself to see how “good” I can be.

       There are many reasons people fasted in the Bible. Many fasted when waiting for God’s answers. Some used fasting as a type of prayer or a ritual or mourning. In Matthew 4, Jesus spends forty days in the desert to then be tempted by the devil. It was a way of proving he was and is the Son of God.

Jesus spoke this in Matthew 6, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,  so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

      I was using fasting as a way to prove to myself I was a faithful Christian. I wasn’t afraid to tell anyone what I gave up, showing them how I was being different. That might be the modern day equivalent of disfiguring.

Fasting shouldn’t be about anything other than expressing your love for Christ and your willingness to spend more time in His Word and in his presence.

It was supposed to be something between me and God. Instead I made it something between me and me. I felt no closer to God than before. If anything, I had spent less time with Him than I have in awhile, only sending out spitfire prayers before bed or big events.

      Through this process, I thought of a poem that I fell in love with last semester during my Gender and Literature class. We were studying the late faith-based poet, Mary Oliver, and I want to share her special poem with all of you this Lent season.

The Poet Thinks of The Donkey

On the outskirts of Jerusalem
the donkey waited.
Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,
he stood and waited.

How horses, turned out into the meadow,
leap with delight!
How doves, released from their cages,
clatter away, splashed with sunlight.

But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.
Then he let himself be led away.
Then he let the stranger mount.

Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.

I hope, finally, he felt brave.
I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,
as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward.

A large part of fasting in Scripture goes hand-in-hand with waiting. It goes together with prayer. This donkey had waited and waited and waited…Watching other animals get their freedom. And when he was finally chosen to be the carrier of Jesus, he realized that he was no different than before. Still the tiny little donkey.

Do you ever feel that way? Once that a prayer is finally answered. Or once you choose God’s will instead of your own. Did you still come to the realization that it was never about you at all, but what God could do through you?

While that thought can be humbling, it can also be a relief. I love knowing that God not only has something specially planned for me, He has prepared me for it. All things are possible through Him.

My ability to serve and to give isn’t tied up to what I have done for God–it is completely wrapped up in God’s forgiving and merciful love for me.

If you are fasting this Lent, and are still going strong–good for you!! It is a step towards a more healthy and wonderful you. But please remember that is all also, first and foremost, a step towards a more full and passionate walk with Christ.

If you have fallen short, don’t beat yourself up. God is still so, so in love with you.

God Bless You.

About the Author:

Ellie Zumbach is currently a student at Malone University studying Creative Writing and Theatre. From a very young age, she has loved stories and their power to encourage, teach, and inspire. She is a proud member of a drama ministry team known as the Chancel Players and a co-director of the Writers Guild on campus.