I can admit, now that Lent is over, that I did some fasting. Nothing very severe, but it felt pretty difficult to me, because I’m a novice. I’m not a marathon faster. After 24 hours without any favorite food, it’s all I can think about. Thank you, human sin nature.
I won’t go into detail for what I did during Lent but during Holy Week I gave up almost every food I like. I basically ate bread. There were some exceptions but they were approached with prayer and discipline (and mostly for health reasons; I caught an awful bug and was really sick). In this time I learned a lot of things.
Fasting is hard.
It wasn’t hard for the reasons I expected. I wasn’t starving to death half the time. I didn’t get terrible sugar shakes. Instead, every day around 1, my mind focused on some specific food I couldn’t have and decided to spend about an hour justifying consuming that food. It had been a rough day. Fasting isn’t really required. Isn’t this legalism? Fasting should be a personal decision. Who in their right mind gives up tea for a WHOLE WEEK? (no, seriously, what kind of masochist does that???) Every day for an hour or two I had to battle my own demons that told me it wouldn’t hurt to have a cup of tea or some chicken nuggets that my son hadn’t finished at lunch. And you know what?
They were right. I wasn’t giving up bad things. Generally we eat pretty healthy food around this house. Tea has health benefits and is very soothing. What I was giving up was my reliance on these foods and on the comfort I derived from them. Until I began to fast from these things, I had no idea how often I turned to certain foods and drinks for comfort. Deprived of these things, I had nowhere to turn but Jesus. The only thing that silenced the demons telling me to give in was prayer.
Another thing I learned:
We don’t fast just out of some requirement to fast.
Please note that “just”. It is not slang. It is not a prayer “just” where you insert it every fourth word just because. It is there because we absolutely fast because we are required to. Jesus didn’t say, in Matthew 6:16, “When you get around to fasting, if you feel called to it and all your friends are doing it and you need something” and He didn’t say “If you fast”. He said, “When you fast…”
Fasting is “required”. Like prayer and baptism. We are saved by faith not by works. But if you don’t pray… what exactly do you have faith in? One of the great reasons for fasting is what I said above. Because it deprives us of a prop we use to comfort ourselves instead of turning to God, who might conceivably give us hard answers and tell us to change something, which sounds kind of uncomfortable and we’d really rather not and I’ll just eat these mini-cream puffs I bought at Aldi on a whim last weekend.
That said, just because it’s Lent and you should fast isn’t really the whole story. We fast because it helps us take part on the journey of Christ. It tests us, like Christ was tested in the wilderness only not quite so severely. Hunger does weird things to your brain. But if you know your scripture and are rooted in the Spirit and the Word, then you are strong to withstand temptation. I fasted on Holy Week to take part in the journey to the Cross. I don’t want Easter to be about eggs and bunnies and oh yeah we made resurrection rolls because Jesus rose from the dead. I want to be part of the process. I want to mourn my sin and the price it exacted from my Lord. And I want the celebration of Easter to be a real celebration. Jesus is alive and I can have pizza and chocolate and I can have these things BECAUSE He is alive. He is with us! This is amazing.
Other things I learned:
Your stomach shrinks. I was going to eat SOOOOOO much food on Easter. A whole pizza to myself and half a box of cream puffs and a whole bag of potato chips. Two slices of pizza, a few chips and one cream puff later, I was stuffed. Thanksgiving stuffed. I was really disappointed in myself.
If you have a two-year-old-ish (he’s 23 months, close enough), that kid still has to eat. And you can’t eat that same food. It’s tough but you’re a grown up.
If you have a sarcastic husband/wife/roomate/brother/sister/parent/whatever who knows about your fast, you will get lots of comments about how slowly this fast seems to be going. And how not fast it is. And couldn’t you speed things up? Ha. Ha. Hungry people don’t have a very good sense of humor. This is where knowing your scripture helps. “Thou shalt not murder.”Exodus 20:13. Hold fast to that truth! (Ha! another pun! Please don’t kill me.)
I am a spoiled rotten American who loves food and comfort. Fasting did not cut me free from my dependence on tea and chocolate and pizza. But it did teach me a lot about myself. And it turns out I can’t cure my problems with cream puffs. But Jesus can cure my problems, because those problems are usually me, and He’s changing me slowly and day by day. Praise the Lord, who is strong in our weakness and grants us the power to do His will.