Monday, September 20, 2010

Reflection on Fasting

Last week I engaged in my first intentional fast from food for spiritual purposes. My wife and I were going to a church meeting, and they had asked us to fast from noon until we ate together that night. I thought it was reasonable and not too long, so I went for it.

Now some backstory on fasting. I haven't fasted before because I've never felt called nor any passion to fast. I understood the theoretical/theological idea of fasting, but also didn't think it was a universal standard (specifically fasting from food). The idea of fasting is to focus on God and give something up that's important to you. Food is clearly important to life, and the hunger pangs are supposed to remind us to focus on God. And we can use the time we would prepare food and eat to pray and be with God.

Fair enough. Except that I can relatively easily skip a meal by simply being busy and forgetting. Fasting is supposed to be a sort of sacrifice. Food fasting isn't that much for me. Other things (i.e. email, internet, etc.) would be much more so.

But getting back to the present story, I thought this would be a good opportunity to try out a food fast. So I did. I made it to the end of the work day without too much problem. In fact, skipping lunch fed right into my tendency to just work more without thinking. Frankly, I don't spend much time making food or eating. I multitask the whole time.

At 6PM, my wife and I get to the meeting, and I'm thinking we'll eat within the next hour, which will definitely be good. Well, I was wrong. We didn't eat until 8 or 8:30. There were messages and times for reflection. By this point, I was VERY hungry. So much so that I was critical of almost everything the speakers said and had extreme difficult focusing on the reflective tasks. My mood was sour and my energy level was almost non-existant.

During the last reflective exercise, food was set out on all tables. We came back and there was a little more talking while everyone was really more focused on the food we couldn't touch. This was the most meaningful time of the fast, as I contemplated how we "needed" this food NOW since so many of us hadn't eaten for 12 or so hours. What about the people who only eat a couple of times a WEEK and nothing close to meal we were having?

We ate, and I could quickly feel my mood brighten and my energy level return. I suddenly saw utility and God's presence in the speakers' words. Honestly, this experience verified my bias that food fasts are not helpful to all people. For me, it actually seemed to bring me farther from God.

Again, there have been fasts from other things that have been much more effective. And I think that's biblical. In a group discussion on the spiritual discipline of fasting, we were exploring how biblical times people really didn't have much else to give up besides food. So a fast truly was synonymous with food. In today's time, we have the luxury of giving up many things. And frankly, we put many things as more valuable than food.

I usually approach food as simply body fuel. Without my body functioning, I can't connect to God spiritually. There are other things that definitely impeded my connection to God, though, that a fast would aid in our relationship.

What about you? What would be useful for you to fast from?

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