Practicing Temperance by Fasting and Feasting

The Christian life goes through seasons of feasting and fasting. Easter follows Lent as a season of feasting following a season of fasting. Both seasons are meant to draw us closer to the Lord and form us more closely into His likeness. So why is it that it so often feels easier to ‘be holy’ in a season of fasting?

In part this is because we have a deficient view of temperance. We often think of temperance in respect to what it denies. It avoids sin, it sacrifices, it does without; it is simple, ascetic, poor. And all of these can certainly be true marks of temperance. But temperance affirms as much as it denies and thus the saints of God are meant practice temperance in both their fasting and feasting.

Temperance is practicing right proportion. In this it stands in stark contrast to gluttony, which is taking sinful pleasure in excessiveness. What is important to remember is that this excessiveness can play out in various ways. Wallowing in a self-righteous asceticism that denies the goodness of one’s own existence and ignores the good gifts given to us by God through His creation is as much a gluttonous activity as living solely to consume food and drink. Without temperance fasting becomes about how much I have given up and for how long; feasting becomes about seeing how much I can eat, how well I can handle my alcohol. So gluttony can lie behind anorexia just as much as it lies behind obesity.

Temperance should be practiced whether one fasts or feasts. When in a season of fasting temperance calls us to consider what the proper measure of fasting it is that should be undertaken. It does not insist on extremity to prove devotion, for that is self-righteousness, and of no benefit. In a season of feasting it beckons us to come to the banqueting table in joy, but reminds us to keep our joy rooted in the Giver of good gifts and not the things that He is giving.

Temperance cries out, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness therein!” It reminds us that God is our loving Father who has graciously given us all things in Christ. It reminds us that every blessing is from His hand. It teaches us that faithfulness looks like gratefully receiving our Father’s gifts of love and then treating those things with the thoughtful stewardship such magnificently ennobled things deserve. Temperance drinks wine at weddings, enjoying the fruit of God’s creation, and rejoicing in the beauty of human love; all the while remembering Christ’s blood which is true drink and that all human love is meant to show us a picture of God’s perfect love for us. In this way temperance guards us from all excessiveness.

We can begin practicing temperance in the most mundane things. When we sit down to meal, we can take time to carefully consider the food we are about to eat: the plants and animals that were raised, the fruitfulness of the soil, and the labor of those who tended it. We can consider our own gifts and abilities, how God has provided for us through the work of our hands and the generosity of those around us. Then we can say a heartfelt “Thank you, Lord!” as we realize anew that every breath we take, every bite we eat, every dollar we earn, indeed each and every good thing in the whole of creation is filled to the brim with God’s marvelous grace.

If we thus make it a habit of worshipping God through our eating and drinking, it will be all the more difficult for food and drink to become idols we run to for comfort instead of God. And what is more is that when practiced in this way, temperance can help us see that the ordinary goodness of this earth is imbued with a sacramental glimmer of the glory of heaven.