"And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you (Matthew 6:16-18).”
The human heart can be remarkably deceptive. It can let go of one false attachment and pick up another at the speed of light! Jesus pointed out some people who were making a great show that they were fasting in order to impress others who might observe them. They made a great effort to look dismal. They contorted their faces in pain—and, we might suppose, they looked around quickly to make sure that someone was noticing! Here’s the problem. The goal of a fast, any kind of a fast, is to let go of something that is producing a false attachment in you. Those to whom Jesus was pointing may well have entered into their fasts for very good reasons. It can be a very powerful thing to miss a meal or three intentionally in order to put the ruthless dictator we call the stomach back in its proper place. But in the very same moment that these people were fasting from their attachment to food, they were picking up another one, an attachment to the approval of others. One prison door opens into another. SIGH.
Lent is a season for fasting. You are by now identifying (or have identified) some things you will give up during this season. But do bear in mind the warning of Jesus. If what you do is done to impress others, that impression will be the full reward. That’s all you get! If, for purposes of accountability or your need for encouragement, you find it helpful to tell someone else what you’re giving up—well and good. Otherwise, do it in secret and ask God to grant you the real reward, the freedom to move closer to the heart of God.