”The idea had been building for some time. Several months, actually. But it nonetheless took me by surprise when it fully revealed itself to me on the Wednesday of Holy Week. That idea was to fast. That idea was to honor Jesus/participate in or at least symbolically reflect His passion by fasting from Thursday to Good Friday service.
This idea came from several sources. One is that I had been thinking about fasting for some time. I had been thinking about what it was for. I knew it wasn’t just duty to perform (see Zechariah 7-8) and I knew it really wasn’t a way to manipulate God/put God in my debt so that He does what I want (this is impossible). But I knew it was something Jesus and Moses and Daniel and a lot of other biblical figures did, something Jesus talked about us doing as if He expected us to do it or at least expected that we would do it, and I was wondering what it was for. I got at least part of my answer to this sermon in which one of the Bible Project guys says that fasting is an appropriate response to changes in life. He actually laments the fact that he has never fasted in the way many of the Bible characters did, and I likewise lament that I never have, either.
Another was a podcast I recently listened to in which a Christian teacher said that millennials are more interested in the practice of fasting than any other spiritual practice. I am not one who thinks that Christian leaders should capitulate to anything millennials want; there are other generations out there and other generations to come, after all. But I was interested in why they were so interested in it.
A third was Daniel 10. I came across Daniel 10 is some podcast or another, and was really moved when I heard him say this:
So I had been flirting with fasting for some time, having been influenced by these and a few other sources (some of which were not spiritual at all, were presenting fasting as merely a health-promoting discipline, not one to draw near to God). And when this idea came to the forefront that Wednesday, I decided to give into it. I decided to fast for all day Thursday and most of the day Good Friday. I decided to participate in/at the very least reflect the passion of Jesus by denying myself not only choice food but all food. I decided to experiment with fasting in this way. And I did it. I gave it my best shot, anyway. As I did, I had the following reflections:
- You have to prepare for fasting. My fast would have been easier if I had geared up for it a week in advance. I didn’t. Instead, I fasted on the fly. And that made it harder. Since I hardly ate Wednesday (only a couple bowls of cereal the entire day), I was already down several hundred calories. That made not eating Thursday and Friday very difficult. While I was able to do my daily workout Thursday before the fast really got going, I was not able to do so Friday; I was too weak to do so. I also had a couple times when I almost passed out. I eventually cheated, eating a banana and some grapes late Thursday night and ending the fast Friday at 4 rather than after the Good Friday service at 7 pm (this last one also had something to do with my schedule; I had my daughter whom I had to keep busy for a couple hours, and the playland at McDonald’s is the easiest way to do that). If I could do it again, I would prepare better, making sure to fuel myself better the days before the fast and get my workouts in before as well.
- I was never as hungry as I thought I would be. I thought I would be starving during the fast, but I wasn’t. I felt a little empty inside and a little weak, but I didn’t feel the gnawing hunger I’ve felt at other times. I’m not sure why this is. But I did want to eat. Most of that wanting to eat was psychological. I just like snacking and wanted to snack whether I was hungry or not. I regarded this as a weakness, the very kind of weakness I believe fasting is intended to combat.
- My normal diet made fasting harder. I couldn’t believe how weak I became after just one day without food. This was especially so considering Daniel fasted without choice food for three weeks and Jesus fasted with apparently no food at all for 40 days. I can’t prove anything here, so my conclusion might be suspect, but I did wonder if this was due to my overall diet. I eat lots of sugar. I have refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup and gluten and a whole lot of things Daniel and Jesus never had period, much less never had to fast from. I wondered if this diet, my regular, normal, everyday diet, was just such that it by itself (apart from willpower, apart from wanting to do right and not do wrong) made fasting far more difficult that it was for someone without such a diet. I further wondered, then, if my daily spiritual diet (my TV watching, my going the mall, my consumerist, disposable, buying-and-selling, always-being-entertained) makes the “to live is Christ” lifestyle the Bible promotes equally far more difficult. I think it does.
- Fasting was hard to talk about. Jesus teaches that we are to behave no differently when we are fasting. Because of this, I kind of feel fasting is something I need to keep to myself. But the way I interacted with people throughout the day, and the way food is often part of such interactions, made it nearly impossible to do this. I had to tell people I was fasting, and it felt weird.
- Fasting was appropriate. It feels a little self-righteous and deluded to say that I was participating in the passion of Jesus by fasting; I’m fully aware of that. And yet, to some small degree that is exactly what it was. It felt right to fast from food, particularly “choice food” during that period as some small reflection of all Jesus did without and all Jesus suffered from during that exact same period. And it was just fasting from food. Video games was something else I fasted from; it just didn’t seem appropriate to be playing video games, particularly the bloody kind, during the latter part of Holy Week. Sex was another; sex just didn’t seem right that weekend. I had heard of people fasting from such things before, and I always thought it was weird, even legalistic. I was always glad I was raised in a tradition that didn’t have such fasts. But this time these fasts seemed not weird but right to me.
So that was my fasting experiment. Did I do it right? I’m not sure. I did participate in the passion of Christ in some small way and/or respect the sacrifice that we commemorate that beautiful weekend, though. I’m fairly convince of that. I’m convinced fasting in the flawed way I did was a better way to observe the events of this weekend than not fasting at all (just as feasting is a better way to observe the events of the following Sunday). Even more than that, I learned a lot from doing it. My eyes were opened to some other important realities, particularly the reality that the way I routinely live, a way that does not seem wrong to me/seems normal to me, often prevents me from being in the flow of God. I think that makes the experiment a success.