I have had a mixed relationship with fasting throughout my life. I grew up “giving up” things like bubble gum, candy, and pop for Lent every year. As I grew older, I started fasting from sunup to midnight on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. My 12-year stint with vegetarianism began with giving up meat for Lent.
Fasting was always part of the rhythm of my life, but never really for the right reasons.
If I’m honest, I would often treat myself like a martyr. I was so much holier than others because I was depriving myself of food for a day, and I would subtly let them know it. It was part of my identity as a Catholic, and I don’t regret it, but my heart was not in the right place.
For starters, a big part of Christian fasting revolves around forgoing certain things in one’s life so that we have more to give to the poor around us. I certainly did not do that. Fasting during the day also gives us more time to sit with God (when we would be otherwise eating), but I wouldn’t do that either.
And then, for years, I stopped.
After coming back to God seven years ago, I wanted to start fasting again. Yet, here, I found a new problem: fasting led to pretty intense anxiety, which was already a problem for me. I tried several times, but always felt worse, especially if I had to abandon the fast for my mental health.
So, again, I stopped. But I never stopped believing in the importance of fasting.
Now, here’s the exciting bit. I started fasting one day a week about two months ago, and it’s been such a fruitful part of my journey. I start my fast after dinner on Thursday night, and have refrained from eating food until dinner on Friday. The fast lasts about 23-26 hours (depending on when we eat both nights), and I’m asleep for a good chunk of it.
The mornings are rough. I know that the enemy of our souls does not want us to connect with God, and he attacks when we are weak. Physically, my body is not used to not eating food. Even today, between when I started writing this article and now, I had to break my fast as I started to be sick. It’s disappointing, but had to be done.
But, whenever I persevere, the benefits are amazing:
A deep sense of peace and clear-headedness. I don’t know about you, but this is the kind of state of being that I would love to have every time I sat down to write.
A feeling of being closer to God. I’m not one for chasing feelings around, but this one is nice when it happens.
A greater understanding of my need for God. The more I understand my relationship to God and my utter dependence on Him, the more I’m inspired to make my entire life about Him. A great thing for artists who can be obsessive about their art.
A more balanced view of food in my life. Though not overweight, I am a glutton when I stop to look around the world. I have FAR more than enough food and rarely go through a whole day where I only eat when hungry. Understanding what REAL hunger is (and not just boredom or the love of salt or sugar) helps balance out my worldview.
So, if you are thinking of a new spiritual discipline, or have been feeling far from God, I suggest you try a fast. It will probably suck for a while, but if you can push through the temptations, the lies of the enemy, and the social pressures to eat, and if you can focus on the One who actually sustains and satisfies, then perhaps He will meet you in your fast.
One last word of wisdom: Don’t make a huge Indian meal to break your fast with. Trust me on that one.