Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
16 “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. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 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. 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, a 40-day season of repentance as we prepare for the Cross and Resurrection.
I remember my mom and sister fasting on Ash Wednesday. I don’t remember the age at which I joined them.
My mom and sister didn’t boast they were fasting or hide in bed, but they went about their business, aware of the hunger that gnawed at their stomachs.
This is also National Eating Disorders Week.
I am fasting today as a spiritual discipline (well, drinking coffee and water), but it calls to mind times I fasted for other reasons. Those days, I drank coffee and water, too, along with cigarettes.
The hunger I felt symbolized to me that I was doing something right. I would pass by craft services on the set of the tv show, proud of myself for not stopping to graze, or heaven forbid, eat a meal.
When I got home, I would go to the gym, go to bed, and do it all over again.
This was not a spiritual discipline, but discipline of disfigurement and despair. I purposely wanted my figure to disappear. I was not happy with the body I had, as if it were, I was, wrong for just being “normal.” I didn’t want to be “normal.” That’s the term used when I modeled, because I was not as thin as other models. I was not “good” at eating disorders back when I modeled, except when I was. When I began working on the tv show, I initially loved that food was always available. I felt so fancy being on set. But then I noticed my pants getting tighter. That was a no-go. Not that anyone told me to lose weight, but I was uncomfortable and embarrassed. It was Hollywood, after all. The land of the beautiful. Beautiful meaning skinny, in my mind and supported by the culture.
So I stopped eating.
And I got skinny.
But I was a mess. Personally, I made terrible decisions. I didn’t treat myself or others as a beloved child of God. I was hungry for something that fasting couldn’t satisfy.
The show ended, and life changed.
I began to eat again somewhere along the way.
It is not a constant struggle to have a positive relationship with food, but I have had my moments of disordered eating in the years since. But I am better and stronger, mentally and physically.
Do I wish sometimes I was still that skinny 25-year-old again? Sure. But I ain’t. And that’s ok.
As I am reminded by the cross of ashes on my forehead, I am God’s beloved dust, into whom God breathed life and called good. Very good. I am but dust and dirt and ashes, but I will not blow away into nothingness. Not today.
Today I hunger. I hunger for justice and for healing and for the peace that surpasses understanding.
I pray today for those fasting for righteousness and those who abstain out of fear, pain, control. May all y’all know that you, too, are beloved dust, just as you are, beautiful and whole. God, let it be so.
Former international fashion model Rev. Sarah Renfro seeks to boost the body image of young women by educating them on the myths of media and focusing on divine within. She also preaches and teaches about marriage and divorce, motherhood, ministry, and mental illness.