We start Lent with a story that reminds us of our choices: Jesus is being put to the test. Imagine the desert into which he went: immense stretches of barren land. No trees, no running water, at best a cave or two in which to hide from the worst of the sun’s heat. This is an environment in which people die—and quickly.
But Jesus wasn’t just in an inhospitable environment: he was fasting, an incredibly lengthy and painful fast. As we begin Lent, it’s natural that our thoughts also turn to fasting. It’s a necessary spiritual practice (Jesus didn’t say “if you fast,” he said, “when you fast”) that’s gone largely out of style. And while for many people missing one meal seems a significant hardship, it’s also not enough to learn about hunger, to feel real hunger. Part of the practice of fasting is what we learn from it, from the emptiness inside, from the ache: it sharpens our senses and helps us focus.