Why I Believe in Fasting
I love food. I really do.
My mom's biscuits and gravy.
I like high class gourmet stuff and I also like microwave pizza rolls and the old Hostess fruit pies.
There's nothing wrong with that.
However, there's a key in the midst of my loving like for food that I miss often and more than that the dominant culture misses. The loving like of what we put in our bodies is a symptom of something that has the deep power to, in Dallas Willard's language, "ruin" our souls.
Which is why I believe in fasting.
If we look at our greater world, you can trace the family heritage of the evil acts and plans towards the satisfaction of someone's body. Ideologies are fought for because of emotional reactions in our bodies to our belief system getting "ahead" so to speak.
The major discussions about sexuality today are, sadly, not about human sexuality or even human rights or civil rights, but instead the satisfaction of a drive in our body and our tendency to make that a marker of whether or not a person is truly alive.
Jesus Himself teaches us this, and it's surprising how often these little words go unnoticed by faithful Bible readers:
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ (Matt. 6:31)
Why would Jesus say this? Because we worry about those things. They did then and we do now.
The driving factor behind this teaching was the audience of Jesus - day laborers who were fighting to get by day after day. They heard this teaching in the sense of living by trusting God instead of grasping and grabbing and quenching even the basic consumptions.
Today, we live in the reverse. If Jesus were to teach it today, we may insert the powerful word "How" instead of "What" into that verse. Compulsion drives our choice of job, home, car, family status, on and on and on. It has thrown emotional grenades into my life, when I've let it run amok, and the shrapnel has spread into deep and unseen places. I've seen that in the life of others.
Which is why I believe in fasting.
Fasting is basically the willingness to give up something that we're rightfully entitled to, which is in our power, to teach our body that it isn't calling the shots, which is something that is often out of our power.
The worst advice that you could give someone who struggles with pornography or lust is to stop it. That's a great idea, but in order for that to have long term traction we have to learn how to tell our body no.
The root of compulsion is that we've made our body our lord, and because we've let it be louder and more demanding.
Fasting in Dallas Willard's words, "Helps us be sweet and strong when we don't get what we want." Our bodies want something. We're anxious and worried about how we'll satisfy our bodily needs. We're distracted by it and eventually choose immoral or destructive things to keep it quiet. Our body then responds by raising our tolerance for stuff and satisfaction becomes hard to come by.
Here's where fasting comes in - if you can tell your body that it doesn't need food, music, or entertainment & distraction, then you learn that you won't die without those things. Then you learn that you won't die without other compulsions that may be ruining your life.
I believe in fasting because it has taught my soul to ask the right questions. Not, "How do I take care of this need?" but instead "Do I need this?"
I believe in fasting because it quiets the demanding toddler that is the real estate between the top of my head and the bottom of my feet.
I believe in in fasting because when I give up food, music, or technology I am able to listen to my spouse or my daughter without the clatter and clamor of my body tugging on my sleeve.
I believe in fasting because God uses that moment to remind me of those in other countries who don't have the option NOT to eat and I stand together with them.
I believe in fasting because I grow in patience, contentment, and lack of anxiety at the end of each fast.
I welcome you to try this, and here's a short plan:
1. Start slow - fast one meal or take one day and fast from technology or distraction. Drink water or fruit juice, or even do a fast of only water and raw vegetables. You will have headaches, some fatigue, etc. so take it slow. One meal a week is a great place to start with food, one day a week with technology.
2. If you have issues with body image or eating disorders, don't fast from food. Today, the more powerful fast is from technology and I think most of us struggle more with not using our smartphone than we do with not eating.
3. Fast when you can attend to the feeling of hunger, absence, etc. Don't plan to fast when you'll be so busy that you wouldn't eat anyway. When you hear a growl or feel the compulsion to unlock the phone or turn on some music, quiet yourself and pray "Lord let my hunger for _______ become my hunger for You."
Just like weight training, the first couple of fasts will lead you sore and exhausted. However, after you establish a habit you'll find yourself telling your body to shut up and take it's rightful place.