I hate fasting. Maybe it’s because I love food. I love the grocery store and cooking and restaurants and the Food Network, and all of that is good . . . until it’s not. The problem is not with enjoying food but with inordinately loving food. My love of food slowly and quietly masks my self-satisfying way of life. It’s my self-satisfying way of life that slowly and quietly moves God from being a focus to being a distraction; which leads me to say things like, “I hate fasting.”
Jesus assumes that his followers were fasting regularly. When he taught his disciples about it he was careful to say, “When you fast,” not, “If you fast.” The Church has always considered fasting a non-negotiable means of grace; a practice whereby the Holy Spirit enlarges our capacity for more of the presence, power and love of God.
In order to get past fasting as a religious duty we must approach it differently. Fasting is all about focus. The most valuable gift we have to give to God and others is our attention. This makes distraction our great enemy. And distraction is most often masked by either busy-ness or laziness.
Let’s not make fasting a self-imposed test to see if we can do without chocolate for the next seven weeks. That approach just creates another distraction. Consider these five points of guidance during the 40 days of Lent, a season of inviting the Holy Spirit to serve as personal trainer for the human spirit.
1. Begin by identifying not what we will give up but upon who and how we will focus our attention.
Fasting is not so much about denying ourselves as it is cultivating a deeper and more compelling desire for God within our deepest self. If self denial is the focus, all the attention will go to self. If instead, we intention our spirit to focus (and even fixate) on Jesus, something new will happen. We will actually move into the uncharted territory of self-forgetfulness. Slowly but surely our attention will be seized by a much greater affection. Fasting is about cultivating a hidden and holy affection for God. Ask Mary. There’s a lot to be said about focusing attention on other people as an act of focusing attention on God. The problem is how we often wind up making our so-called focus on other people really a focus on ourselves. Fasting with a fixation on Jesus is intended to disrupt such deception. The journey of becoming “others” centered begins with becoming “Other” centered.
2. Let food be the subject of fasting.
Don’t make fasting about social media or starbucks or dark chocolate or any number of the small indulgences with which we satiate ourselves. Yes, these can all be distractions and we must deal with them, but let’s not forget that fasting is about something more basic than that, something that cuts to the very core of our existence, food. Survival does not depend on iPhones or a Grande-Five-Pump-Chai-Latte-with-a-shot-of-espresso. Survival depends on food and the big idea is learning to depend on God not in place of a small indulgence but like we depend on food.
3. Given point 2, fasting does not have to be the total abstention from food.
Make a shift from “living to eat” to “eating to live.” Try fasting from any form of meat. Try eating a peanut butter sandwich for lunch every day with a glass of water. Try eating only non cooked fruits and vegetables and/or nuts. On this point of selective fasting check in with Daniel.
4. Fasting works best when practiced as a rhythm rather than a sporadic series of one-off’s.
From the early days of the Church, Christians fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays. John Wesley led the Methodists to emulate this approach. As a starting place for the season of Lent, choose one day a week for a 24 hour fast by eating one meal and not eating again until that same meal the next day. Good hydration is advisable though. Take a walk during one of those meal times and quietly speak to God along the way. Open your heart, and in plain and simple language talk to God. On this point consult Peter.
5. Fasting is a hunger displacement device.
Invite the Holy Spirit, through fasting, to increase your appetite for loving the Word of God and doing the will of God in the same way that you love food. Eat the Word of God. Be creative in fashioning this diet. Be inventive in love. Follow Jesus.
The bottom line? In order to get past our hatred for fasting, we must find our way into fasting as an act of love. Remember the last time you shared a meal with people you love and the conversation and fellowship was so enriching you hardly tasted the food? That’s what fasting is about; finding our way to the real feast.
How about you? Share some wisdom you have picked up along the way as relates to fasting. Why do you think it is so hard?