Last month I started a 21 day modified fast. The practice of fasting was mentioned in church as a way to form a closer spiritual connection. I wasn’t sure of the exact reason that I wanted to fast, but I felt that it was important for me to do so, and so I made a commitment to myself to attempt this task.
I journaled most days of my fast and I have decided to summarize those thoughts in this post. I deliberately did my daily writings in a public forum (Facebook) as I thought that some of my discoveries could serve as a seed to grow ideas in others. How successful that latter wish was is unclear.
Fasting was a strain on both my physical and emotional self. I tried to use that vulnerability to access parts of my conscious and subconscious. My fast was accompanied by readings from the Gospel of John. At times my inner self resonated with the reading of the day, at other times less so. However, the readings added another dimension to my process.
Here are some of my thoughts that occurred during my 21 days of fasting.
I was questioning why I was doing the fast and hoping that I would have some sort of a major breakthrough, or gain a better understanding of my purpose in life. My fast consisted of eating only bread for two meals and having a small simple meal for the third. What struck me most during the early days was that my fasting food likely had more calories that what many people in the world normally eat in a given day. I felt fortunate to have been born in this country, but I also had a sense of guilt over that fortune. My sparse rations would have been someone else’s bounty.
The reading for the day was John, Chapter 4. This is the story of the Samaritan woman who asked Jesus for help. Samaritans were outcasts and Jesus showed her compassion and acceptance.
Our current world is divisive. So many groups are marginalized and rejected. We love to watch reality TV shows that humiliate the contestants. We save our compassion for those who look and act like us and show hate and rage for individuals and groups that are different from us. We sometimes do this under the banner of Christianity.
Hate, rage, and damnation are not what Christianity is all about. Jesus accepted others no matter what.
I was feeling hungry and I was examining the role of suffering as a vector for change and contemplation. Certain groups have used self-punishment as a method that would give them closer relationships with God. I’m absolutely not one to self-flog or to wear a hair shirt. However, I feel that a reasonable sacrifice makes me more aware and tuned in.
On a spiritual level, I was thinking about scripture and wondering what its true meaning was. Most Christian believe that you have to be a Christian to have salvation. This is based on numerous passages in the Bible where Christ says things like, “I am the way… no one comes to God but through me.” However, only 31% of the world is Christian. Does this mean that over 4 billion people are going to go to hell? This makes no sense to me. I believe that Jesus was really saying that his message and what he represented was the way. What is that way? To love, to accept, to be compassionate, to help others, to forgive.
Day 6 was a rough day for me. My eating schedule got all screwed up and by dinner time I was becoming hypo-glycemic. In my vulnerable state, I was feeling that my fasting was foolish. I started to question everything, including the existence of God. I feared that my quest for a richer spiritual life was akin to wishing that Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny were real.
Was I using the God thing as a crutch to get through life? Yet, I had so many examples where it seemed like I was being directed and guided in my life by an external force. In the end, I decided that is what faith was all about. I also started to think about something that I hadn’t thought about in decades, the Holy Spirit.
This was a weekend day, which allowed me to have two small regular meals. On both occasions, I ate with people who I cared about. I was more aware of how important having others in my life is for my overall sense of well being. This is contrary to the way that I have lived much of my life as an island unto myself. The pattern of behavior protected me from being hurt, but at a significant cost. I know that I don’t need a lot of people in my life, but I do need a select few. Without them, my life would be empty.
The reading today was John, Chapter 8. This is the chapter where John retells the tale of the adulterous woman who is about to be stoned. Jesus tells the crowd that the person in the group who is sinless should cast the first stone.
It is easy to judge, but are we willing to judge ourselves? We make excuses for our behavior, but we are critical of the behavior of others. In many cases, their actions are not our business.
This led me to think about my past behaviors and realize that I can’t change the past, I can try to improve in the present.
The reading was John, Chapter 9 and it explores Jesus healing a blind man, and his apostles asking him if it was the man or his family who were being punished by God. Jesus says it was neither.
This really struck me as I sometimes wonder why things are not going the way that I would like. What did I do wrong? Was I being punished? The answer is, no. Stuff happens, that is just the way that it is.
I had to switch up my meals on day 10 and didn’t have a normal meal until the evening. This left me not only hungry but also fairly non-functional. It made me realize that one of my responsibilities in life was self-care. It is my responsibility to eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, reduce my stress, exercise, etc. It is only then that I’m able to do my best for myself and others.
I had a dream that not only woke me up but kept me up for several hours during the night. This was especially bad for me as I typically only sleep around 6 hours a night. In my dream, my daughter was a young child and I had forgotten her birthday. In a frantic gesture, I cleaned the house and found snacks for a party. The guest were about to arrive and I looked around the room. Everything was neat and tidy. I looked at my daughter who seemed perfectly happy with the arrangements. Then I realized that I had not decorated for a party, and I was out of time. I felt terrible and like a failure.
The dream made me realize how I could be my own worst critic. I did 95% of what I needed to do, but I chose to focus on what was missing instead of what was there.
I want people to love me for who I am, but I realized that I wasn’t loving to myself.
I was up early and had an early meeting with a friend. My thoughts gravitated towards feelings of being fortunate to have people in my life who I truly care about.
I wasn’t hungry on Saturday and went to a cake decorating class that two of my kids gave me as a Christmas present. I greatly enjoyed the class, but I was confronted by a limitless supply of cake, cake remnants, and sugary frosting.
I have not eaten concentrated forms of sugar for almost 5 years, but I decided to “taste” the icing. In short order I was in a full binge. The result was I was not only disappointed in myself but I also felt physically terrible.
Despite not feeling hungry that day it was easy for me to go back into a bad behavior as I was in the wrong environment.
I admitted that I made a mistake and I committed to restarting my fast the next day.
Yesterday’s sermon talked about the fact that the average adult is exposed to 4000 ads every single day. Ads that generally make you feel bad about yourself or your life (in an effort to get you to buy something).
If advertisements make you feel bad, what makes humans feel good? Many things, most of which are free. Number one on the list was good interpersonal relationships.
I picked up my daughter from a study abroad program and was overjoyed to have her back home. Once again I’m struck with how relationships are the key to happiness.
I was aware that most of my 21 day fast was behind me. I started to question my usual problem-solving tactics. I realized that some things in life are just rough, and there is no easy way out. If you can’t change things you have to accept them. Life is sometimes about getting through the next hour, or minute, or second. However, each one brings you closer to some sort of resolution.
Despite being almost neurotic about keeping my distance, I caught a cold from my friend, Tom. I was feeling lousy and I was sick of fasting. I thought more about my pondering from the day before.
It is easy to want the easy way out. It is easy to not take responsibility and to blame others for our unhappiness. It is easy to cast general blame on an entire group. However, such actions leave us powerless to change. I continued to commit to being responsible for my actions and behavior.
Today’s reading was John, Chapter 19 where Jesus is judged by Pilate. Pilate doesn’t want to have anything to do with sentencing Jesus to death but gets manipulated by the Jewish leaders to have Jesus crucified. They tell him, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
By using social pressure they get their way. How many times have I been swayed by social pressure? How many times have I gone against my own principles to avoid being criticized or ostracized? I need to be true to myself and my convictions.
Not a great fast day, but I did my best.
My thoughts centered on trying to be a better person. On trying to think beyond my normal, and to be aware beyond my usual. More thoughts on the fact that things are neither good nor bad, they just are.
Last day. I had to drive my daughter back to school (around12 hours, round trip) and knew that I couldn’t fast for a variety of reasons. I tried to focus on my spiritual life, with only a small degree of success. I decided to listen to a podcast and found a lengthy one on Jeffrey Epstein, the serial pedophile.
How many people turned the other way despite obvious evidence? How many were swayed by his money and power? How many children were sacrificed to meet his insatiable needs? We live in a world where we often look the other way if we think that our own interests are at risk. This made me sad.
What did I learn from 21 days of prayer of fasting? I learned how fortunate I am to have been born in a country with so much while also living in a world that does not have enough.
I explored the reasons why I am a practicing Christian. My religion is not about rules and regulations. It is not about belonging to an exclusive club or having a golden ticket to heaven. It is about being kind to others, loving others, being compassionate towards others, giving to others. My Christianity is a religion of caring, and that was emphasized to me during my fast.
I also became more aware of myself. How I need to have people who care about me and love me in my life. In turn, I need to love and care about them. I must be freer about telling people that I love them, and not worry that such a statement may make me too vulnerable or sound too weak.
I learned that I can be very critical of myself, but I need to love and forgive myself in the same way that I do this for others.
I found that despite effort and ego I can still easily screw up and fall flat on my face. However, I can gain an understanding of my mistakes and recommit to change.
I know that happiness does not come from things or money. Rather it is achieved by connecting and caring for others, loving myself, and doing my best to connect with something greater than myself. I call that something, God.
So, was fasting worth it? What do you think?
This is the link to the audio reading of this blog post