This is the fifth post in Faith Bites’ seven-part Lenten blog series. If you need to catch up check out Repent, Pray, Justice, and Reflect.

Until recently, I thought that I was good at fasting. I really prided myself on the ability to master my cravings and desires. I vividly remember giving up meat for the Lenten season during my freshman year at college. It would be a challenge, but I relished the opportunity to prove myself. A quick Google search armed me with the knowledge needed for a healthy vegetarian diet. Plate filled with beans and dairy for protein and dark greens for iron, gaze averted from the slabs of animal muscle that sizzled and seared on grills and pans, I disciplined myself. The fast was done with all due diligence: you wouldn’t catch me contorting my face like one of those hypocrites Jesus talks about (Matthew 6:16)! Once Easter arrived, so did the self-satisfaction of conquering yet another temptation-filled Lent.

Fast forward to today, and the glaring problem with this type of fasting has struck me. As I understand it, fasts are designed to bring oneself closer to God. It is a way to increase one’s appreciation for the gifts and pleasures of the world, culminating in the understanding that the love of God made incarnate in Jesus Christ is the greatest gift of all. So fasts clearly have amazing potential. However, I fear that rather than using fasts as a way to deepen my relationship with God, I have used them as a way to prove mastery over self. There was really nothing spiritual about it.

To be sure, it has always seemed like fasting was the right thing to do. The question “What are you going to give up for Lent?” pervades Christian discourse every year as Ash Wednesday rolls around. The angle I typically took was, well, Jesus gave up food and water for forty days and then confounded the devil (Luke 4:1-3). Consequently it’s time for me to get my fast on, to in some way face temptation just as Jesus had done. Yes, that facile comparison was there. And yes, I took the idea of fasting very seriously. But unfortunately, I don’t think I spent much time at all connecting my fasts to Jesus’ life or call to love and reconciliation.

Instead, the focus was purely on self-discipline. Fasts were a battlefield where I could prove my “spiritual” mettle, where I could tough out temptation while also ensuring that I didn’t complain too much—I wanted to maximize the goodness of my fast, after all. Fasts were occasions to prove myself, to be proud that somehow I disciplined myself just like Jesus disciplined himself. I am afraid this approach was very much misguided. Upon reflection, I ultimately fasted in order to try to prove that I was worthy of God’s love. But we have nothing to prove! God loves us! We are children of God, children whom God loves so dearly that “he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17). Love, not condemnation. I have serious doubts that any sort of fast results in God loving us more.

This year I took a break from fasting. It seemed suitable that I add rather than subtract something to my life during Lent. Praying the evening Daily Office each day has provided an opportunity for me to seek closer relationship with God. Adding the Daily Office to my routine did not necessarily mean that I would not slip back into the folly of spiritual pride: I could easily imagine puffing myself up for “successfully” praying the Daily Office each day. But I can say that the rhythm of Scripture and prayer that the Daily Office offers has helped to make this Lent a time of more serious self-examination while also being more fully centered upon God. I hope that I carry the practice of the Daily Office with me through the rest of 2017 and beyond. Who knows? Maybe next year’s Lent I’ll give that fasting thing another shot.

Andy Russell is from Burke, Virginia, where he is a member of The Church of the Good Shepherd. In 2015-2016, he served with the Episcopal Church’s Young Adult Service Corps in Tanzania. Andy is a member of The Road Episcopal Service Corps program in Atlanta, Georgia for the 2016-2017 year.