As the Lenten season rapidly approaches, we begin to think about the spiritual disciplines we will use to help us build a closer relationship with Christ. Many will choose a fast of some kind. Typically, a fast is used to create a longing, a hunger deep within. Instead of giving into this spiritual hunger during our fast, we turn our thoughts toward our own spiritual hunger and spend time in prayer, asking to be filled by God’s Holy Spirit. There are different types of fasts. Some refrain from a specific food item that you have determined is “bad”. Others will participate in a complete fast for a certain number of hours, maybe days. “Fasting is the laying aside of food for a period of time when the believer is seeking to know God in a deeper experience” according to Fausset’s Bible Dictionary.
Whereas I know that there is a Biblical call for fasting with praying (or praying with fasting) and that the Bible instructs us in appropriate fasting techniques, motives, and intentions (see Isaiah 58: 3-13 and Matthew 6:16-18), I do have a hard time with this spiritual discipline.
You see, I am an excellent “faster”…or I used to be. There were times in my past when I LOVED Lent because it gave me an excuse to “not eat” foods that I thought were “bad” and even go long periods without eating—I thought of it as a “diet jumpstart”. Was I fasting as a spiritual discipline? Of course not! But that is what I told myself, my friends. My fasting was not about being hungry for God, but about my own hunger for earthly perfection in my body. Eventually fasting was something I did on a daily basis, gradually cutting out not just one “bad” food, but ALL of them, not just a few hours with no food, but many. You see, that’s what an eating disorder does…it takes something that is supposed to nourish your soul and strips you down to your bones. Food is not “good” or “bad” and we are not “good” or “bad” if we eat it or fast from it. Spiritual fasting must be done with the right heart, soul, and mind in order for it to be what it was intended to be…a simultaneous emptying and filling, so that there is always something feeding the inner hunger. If not, we experience the hunger, but never the satisfaction of the filling.
As I began my healing and recovery journey, I began to see my physical hunger (and the fact that I felt like I always needed to be hungry) as a symptom of my inner spiritual hunger. I had starved myself physically because I was starving myself spiritually. I could not be full physically because I could not be full spiritually. I had to begin a new fast…fasting from the things that were keeping me from being filled with God’s Word and His Holy Spirit. I had to nourish my body so God could nourish my soul. And believe me, there was DEFINITELY prayer in my new fasting endeavor…God truly showed me what was not “good” for me and gave me the strength to avoid those things.
I understand that not everyone has the same background as I do and fasting, in that case, is an appropriate act of submission to God. For me, however, I choose to fast from fasting! Because restricting food intake was something that kept me away from God, I am going to avoid doing it. Every time I am able to eat something that I used to run away from (sometimes literally!), I have the opportunity to pray, to thank God, and to renew my commitment to Him. What about you? What is keeping you from focusing on God? From what do you need to fast to experience the hunger, the longing that only God can fulfill?
Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, February 22nd—that’s just a week away! Start preparing for how you are going to prepare for Easter!
One more note on Fasting from Food:
As we contemplate fasting for Lent, we must vow to keep it about perfecting of the soul not perfection of the body. Also, be sensitive to those who are around you. Introducing someone to the concept of spiritual fasting needs to take into consideration the persons own struggles with body image or past eating disorder history. If someone, especially adolescents, already have begun to experiment with disordered eating or are having difficulty with body image, the intricacies of spiritual fasting might be misinterpreted and cause some negative habits to develop. The first article listed below states in part, “..for certain individuals, religious/spiritual beliefs serve as a way to explain and perpetuate eating disorder symptoms.”
I have listed a few articles here about Fasting and Eating Disorders. I have placed some links below for your information: