Most of us groan inwardly when we think of fasting. We picture long periods of hunger, boredom and suffering. We’re not quite sure why we should fast, or even how to go about it, but we know that we probably should incorporate fasting into our spiritual lives somehow. As we enter into the season of Lent, here are some things to keep in mind about this practice and practicalities for a sustainable fast.
Misconceptions of Fasting
1. Misery – The worse you feel, the better the fast.
2. Penance – We fast in order to suffer for our sins.
3. Righteousness – We earn the favor of God through fasting.
Often we approach fasting with the attitude that we need to be miserable for long periods of time so we will be justified before God. Some of us feel really guilty about something we’ve done, so we suffer in hopes of feeling better. Or we want God to do something for us, so we suffer in hopes that we will get what we want. Either way the whole point is to suffer—a lot.
Fasting is an outward sign of an inward posture.
Fasting is not a magic formula for getting something nor is it a fix-all for guilt. Fasting is about placing ourselves in a posture of humility and surrender before God. We willingly submit ourselves to physical self-denial so that inwardly we might create space to intentionally listen for God’s voice in our lives. We invite God’s presence by clearing out some of the clutter that distracts us. We place ourselves in a posture of surrender before God in hopes that we might be able to offer up our lives.
Purposes for Fasting
The act of self-denial helps us to discern, prepare and experience freedom.
1. Discernment – Listening to your inner life
2. Preparation – Inviting God’s presence in a new season of life (be it marriage, a new job, the loss of a loved one, relocation, etc.)
3. Freedom – Breaking destructive cycles (not mere behavior modification, but intentionally inviting God’s presence in areas of struggle)
There are many reasons or occasions to fast—and thankfully there are many ways to approach fasting. Many of us think that fasting means going without all food for a fixed period of time. But the reality is it does not so much matter what you fast but the spirit behind it. We do not have to give up all food—we are merely creating space in our lives. So, to finish up, here are some practicalities of fasting.
1. Be Kind – Fasting is not meant to be harmful or cause unnecessary suffering. God does not desire us to be miserable but to foster a spirit of humility
2. Start small – Fasting is not an extreme sport. There is no need to give up all food—find something that creates self-denial while still being sustainable. Perhaps it is a single food item, maybe it is television or a favorite article of clothing. Whatever creates space in your life to intentionally listen to God’s voice.
3. Be Playful – Find something that inspires you. Feel free to add an element of fun or creativity to your fast. For example, last year for Lent I gave up bread and wine so the only time I had these things was at communion. It helped me approach the Eucharist with anticipation and intentionality. Consider adding another practice or image alongside your fast to draw you into the presence of God—maybe carry something in your pocket that reminds you of God’s presence.
4. Rest – Remember that this is all about God’s grace. Sundays are “feast” days during Lent because we celebrate the resurrection. Break your fast (with moderation) on these days to remind yourself that it is about what God will do in your life—not what you will do for God.