Coming from a lifelong involvement in a faith community, I’m familiar with the practice of fasting. Even though I was conversant with the term, it never really made sense to me. Fasting is mentioned many times in the Bible, but I didn’t see what the big deal was. Thou Shalt Not Murder made sense; fasting not so much. I tried fasting many times. I could not graps the value of not eating for a day or a week or, for the truly committed, 40 days. It mainly left me hungry and relieved once the fast was over.
But I’ve taken my dad’s advice to pay attention (from my previous post) and have applied it to fasting. This is what I’ve discovered.
I was always taught that fasting is self-denial and that its good occasionally to deny myself things I want so that I won’t be so selfish and self-centered. It didn’t matter that I didn’t understand it or didn’t feel like I got anything out of it. I was told that it was my duty as a man of faith and that there is value in behaving without understanding. This was the reasoning I’ve now come to reject.
I now see fasting in a completely different light and I’ve come to embrace it and find the joy in it.
For me, fasting is a disciplined practice of loss. It’s a choice to lose something I enjoy, only for a short season, so that I can pay attention to what’s happening inside me now that the object is removed.
This is an important distinction for me. It becomes important because loss is not something I seek, but because loss in life is inevitable. Loss has been one of the major themes of my journey for the last 3 years.
Food is the easiest place for me to start a fast because food is both a daily requirement and a gratuitous pleasure. I know this because I end up eating more than I need through the day. Backing down to two meals a day with no snacking in between forces me to pause and ask myself why I’m eating when I’m not even hungry.
An even better item for me to ponder and reflect on is alcohol. There was a phase during that 3 years where I was so deeply depressed, alcohol became my drug of choice to help me get to sleep. When I started realizing I didn’t want to live without it, that’s when I knew I needed a fast. I needed to lose it for a season so I could pay attention to how important it had become to me.
There is one sole object that is more problematic and more challenging to engage in a fast. Far more than food and drink is my phone. I know this because of how difficult it is to relinquish. I can drop down to two meals a day. I can’t pick up my phone only twice a day.
I pay attention to guilt and when it wants to step in and convince me that I’m failing or not doing it right. This is not the purpose of fasting. My goal of fasting is to feel better, not worse. If I’m racked with self-reproach, I’ve missed the point.
I’ve learned to pay attention to the unsettled feeling inside when I am deprived. Losing my business left the same feeling as not eating or misplacing my phone for a day.
Who am I without it?