We usually think of fasting as not eating. When I’m fasting, I’m not eating. If I fast from sun up to sunset, I don’t consume any food during that time. Maybe I won’t even drink water for a more extreme fast. Either way, fasting is about going without food. But is that all it is?
We give up food when we fast for a variety of reasons, among others because it teaches us humility, it reminds us of the poor and destitute, the homeless. We may renounce food in order to bring us closer to God, which may sound counter intuitive to those who have never tried it, but the act of fasting certainly enhances ones prayer. For me, fasting is a way to empty myself that God may come in. It is an opportunity to drop away the worries of the world that I might be better prepared for God’s voice.
St. Basil said “True fasting lies is rejecting evil, holding one’s tongue, suppressing one’s hatred, and banishing one’s lust, evil words, lying, and betrayal of vows.” This really strikes at the heart of what fasting really is. When I am fasting, if I just concentrate on not eating, on getting through my period of time without food, and think of nothing else, than all I’m really doing is dieting. Fasting for me has to be more than just not eating.
The last several months have been periods of intense fasting for me. Beginning at the end of December into January and February, I went through a very rigorous series of fasts for the purpose of discernment and personal introspection. I had never fasted to such a degree before and it was quite the learning experience. I learned a lot about discernment, about myself, and about fasting.
But it wasn’t enough to just give up fasting. I had to remove those things from my life that I felt were distracting me from being truly empty enough that there was less me, more God. Unfortunately, I made a few mistakes. One of the primary things I gave up was the majority of social media and electronic communication (outside of what was necessary for work). The problem with that is when you communicate with most of your friends and family through social media, you loose touch, they think you’re ignoring them and they all end up being upset. So, take it from me, let people know in advance if you’re dropping off the face of the earth for a while.
Regardless, what I took away from the last few months, what I am still processing is how much fasting really prepares you for receiving God, for hearing His voice. We have to give up those things that distance us from Him while we are fasting, we have to abstain from the evils of the flesh, from gossip and lying, from hateful speech or action, from lustful thoughts, and so much more. We also have to embrace positive action, that is, we need to replace bad with good. Faith without acts is a dead faith. If we are fasting, and not doing anything good during the fast, we are not truly carrying out a fast for the Lord. Pray more, give more, help more, serve more, whatever it is, we need to insure that our time during fasting, the activities we participate in, truly please our Lord.
There can be no doubt that fasting is one of the most powerful spiritual tools available to the Christian and when combined with prayer, with reading Scripture and spiritual material, there is no better combination for us as believers.
Unfortunately, we’re a society that has become spoiled, that is used to instant gratification and never going without. Because of that, fasting is a hard sell in many circles, it may even scare many people thinking they may go hungry and starve. But it really isn’t that hard. Just do it.
Fasting appears gloomy until one steps into its arena. But begin and you will see what light it brings after darkness, what freedom from bonds, what releases after a burdensome life.-St. Theophan the Recluse.