For quite a while now I’ve felt called to make fasting a more regular part of my prayer life, but I don’t feel like I understand it. I’m planning on doing some reading on the subject, but I thought I’d bring it up here in case it’s helpful to anyone else.
I’ve had a surprising amount of difficulty articulating what it is that I don’t understand about this subject, so here are some thoughts and questions off the top of my head:
- The Bible frequently mentions fasting, and holy people throughout the ages have touted its importance and effectiveness. Why is it important, why does it go hand-in-hand with prayer, and what is it about it that brings us closer to God?
- What is the most important aspect of fasting: exercise of willpower to abstain from food or actually experiencing hunger? I ask because I’ve sometimes thought of the practice of just giving up a certain type of food as an inferior type of fasting (e.g. giving up chocolate as a fast instead of skipping a meal). But if it’s more about practicing detachment from food, I could see that giving up anything could be beneficial.
- As I’ve chronicled here, I have a tendency toward gluttony. I worry that if I were to drastically reduce the amount of food I eat at one meal, I’d “undo” any spiritual benefits I gained from that fast by shoveling food into my mouth with reckless abandon at the next meal. Or is that not too bad (e.g. Easter feasting after Lenten fasting)? What am I missing?
- I know that I am missing some base-level understanding of the role of food in a person’s physical and spiritual life, probably because I’ve always lived in middle-class America where we see food like drops of water in the ocean: something of which there is infinite quantity that is always available. (I wrote about this more when I talked about praying before meals, cluing in that less food for me means more food for others, and an ah-hah moment when I was making a store list.) As the product of a culture where it’s easy to feel ungrateful for even the most lavish spreads of food, I feel like I’m missing even more than I realize when it comes to the importance of fasting. Any thoughts?
- What books would you recommend for someone wanting to learn more about this subject?
This is one of those subjects where I know I don’t get it but I’m not sure what I’m missing. I’d love to hear any thoughts on some or all of the above topics!
UPDATE: Just wanted to assure everyone that I will proceed with great caution as long as I’m in this phase of life. At this point I’m mainly just trying to understand fasting as a concept to give me a foundation for thinking about what (if any) toned-down practices I might be able to incorporate at some point.
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