People fast to improve their physical, mental, and spiritual health.
Two weeks ago, a new series started at my church. The series, called “Make Room,” explores how some religious practices can help you make room for the Holy Spirit in your life. The first topic was fasting, and our lead pastor specifically challenged the congregation to consider 21 days of fasting and prayer. This request resonated with me, but I still can’t say why.
In simple terms, fasting is the process of abstaining or reducing some food or drink for a period of time. There are many different ways to fast that range from complete abstinence to a voluntary elimination of some category of food. For instance, the Catholic practice of giving up a food category during Lent could be considered a fast as could the Muslim practice of not eating or drinking from dawn to dust during Ramadan.
I listened to Pastor Dave describe the history of Christian fasting. However, something odd happened to me when he talked about the reasons to fast… I blanked out. After the sermon, I asked Julie to repeat the reasons he cited, and I quickly forgot them. I then turned to the internet and did some reading on spiritual fasting.
Interestingly, I couldn’t recall the salient points of those readings either. I am a professional student who has spent a lifetime memorizing random groups of facts, but I couldn’t remember a couple of them presented in a seron. Why is that? My conclusion is that I’m being compelled to fast for another reason. Not everything in life fits into a set of bullet points.
Here are some of my thoughts on the topic.
What kind of fast should I do?
Simply stated, I should do a fast that I have a reasonable chance of completing. I can’t go 21 days without eating food, in fact, my past history suggests that I can’t go several food-free days without becoming severely hypoglycemic.
I also know that if I only allow myself only a single meal per day, it is likely that I’ll binge eat during that meal. If I eat an entire Thanksgiving Day sized meal, am I fasting? Probably not.
I have gone on bizarre diets through the years in weight loss attempts, and I don’t do well eating only a single category of food, like fruit. In fact, such efforts caused me to transition from my usual sweet self (my personal opinion) into an angry SOB. Making my loved ones miserable seems counter to an exercise done to promote a better spiritual life.
Many years ago I decided to try a bread and water fast. This was likely because I had romanticized the 1918 Eric Enstrom photograph “Grace.” I spent several days eating white bread and drinking water. I found that I was hungry, but I could no longer bear to eat dry bread washed down with incipit tap water. The fast was a failure as all I could focus on was what I would eat after I ended that torture.
Based on the above knowledge, I devised a fast that should work for me. During the workweek, I will continue my custom of eating three times a day. However, for two of those meals, I will only have bread and a non-caloric drink. I made some 100% whole wheat loaves that should be more nutritious than the store-bought stuff. I’m allowing myself to use calorie-free toppings (sugar-free jellies) on the bread as I have difficulty swallowing dry foods. For fluids, I’ll drink non-caloric drinks such as water, tea, and coffee. One time a day (likely lunch), I’ll eat a “basic” meal. For instance, a bowl of soup.
On the weekends, I’ll have a bread meal once a day, along with two small and simple meals. I think that this flexibility is essential for me as a lot of my social connections over weekends involve “breaking bread” with someone.
Prayer and meditation
I define prayer as a conversation with God and meditation as a practice of quieting my mind to become more spiritually aware.
Currently, I do these practices during quiet times during the day, such as my early morning walks. I am curious to see if the quality of my efforts will change with the addition of fasting.
My church has offered to send daily Bible verses via email during the fast, and I have signed up for them. They also have a little video vignette (sort of a mini-sermon) component on these verses. I find the combo much more helpful than just reading a couple of lines of scripture and trying to interpret it myself.
I feel compelled to fast, but I’m not sure why. Further, I can’t remember the part of the sermon where the pastor talked about this. I have concluded that I can’t remember his bullet points because they don’t apply to my particular reason for fasting.
As I start my fast, I am trying to open up my mind to elucidate why I am doing this process. This is what I have come up with so far:
It is an act of discipline.
It is a willingness to commit to do something and to continue to do that thing despite the lack of a guaranteed return. It is a statement that announces that I am more than my physical needs while also admitting that my physical needs and spiritual needs are not separate but connected.
It is an act of sacrifice.
The word sacrifice seems to carry a negative valence and conjures up images of pain and torture in my emotional mind. However, my thinking self understands this term differently. Sacrifice is giving up something for a more significant cause. A sacrifice can be material, such as giving money to the poor. It also can be emotional, as in sitting with a friend during a difficult time. When I sacrifice, I realize that I am not the center of the universe.
It is a way to delay gratification
As a child, I had little, and any luxury item that I possessed was acquired through hard work and diligent saving. This process caused me to value those things. In my current instant gratification world, many things that were once valued now have little value. With a credit card and the internet, it is possible to meet any need 24 hours a day. I can stream a movie at will, or order a pair of shoes at 3 AM. Also, I can eat at any time that I wish as my pantry and fridge are overflowing. Delaying eating despite being hungry is another form of delayed gratification that forces me to be grateful for the food that I eat.
It deemphasizes food
There was a time that I was obsessed with food, and my life revolved around my next snack. Thankfully, that changed several years ago when I gave up eating concentrated forms of sugar. I believe that what I really had was an addiction to sugar, and that addiction drove me to seek it in any way available. It is great to be freed from sugary snacks. With that said, I would like to deemphasize food further. My fasting plan is basic and straightforward. It is designed to provide edible meals that are routine. I know I will eat, but I don’t have to think about what I will eat.
It is a way to have increased awareness of the world around me
Like many, I love a big hearty meal. After I’m done feasting, I find myself lethargic and somewhat self-absorbed. I believe that the converse is true when I eat less. The discomfort that is caused by hunger makes me more alert and aware. That alertness makes me feel connected to the people and things around me.
It is a way to put worldly things in their place
I don’t consider myself ascetic, and anyone who has seen my Amazon shipments would agree. However, I firmly believe that reliance on worldly possessions for a sense of worth or fulfillment is a recipe for an empty and hollow life. A fast is a way to simplify my life and indirectly place less emphasis on “stuff.”
These are the rationale that I have come up with for my desire to fast. Yet, I’m uncertain that they are the right reason(s). As a scientist, I am driven to understand the “whys” of everything. However, I may never find the true “why” of why I feel compelled to fast. It is also possible that I will discover the reason, but that awareness will happen at some point in the distant future. Naturally, I have a secret hope that I will be guided in a significant life direction because of fasting. However, I accept that this likely won’t be the case. Every event in life doesn’t translate into a transparent process with a definable outcome. At times it is vital to act not out of mechanistic rationality but out of faith.
Here is the audio link for this post: http://psychiatricsecrets.libsyn.com/why-am-i-fasting