Confessions of a Non-Faster
I don’t fast. I know I am missing out on what many consider a vital part of their relationship with the Lord and a critical component of their prayer life. Good friends have told me that fasting has led them to spiritual breakthrough, personal insight and answered prayer. Sometimes, I look over my shoulder and long for what they’ve got. But there’s a little voice inside my head/heart that says, “No. That’s not for you.”
I know that voice. It belongs to the one who knows how long I’ve worked to sort out my love/hate relationship with food. It’s the one who calls me back from the edge of self-hatred and gently leads me toward taking care of myself well and accepting the end result. It’s also the one that encourages me to pursue self-discipline in a sustainable, ongoing way. I trust that voice. And I listen to it.
But, still, I wonder. Am I doomed to remain a second-class believer, muddling through without the greater experience enjoyed by those who refrain from self-indulgent living? And what about all the other people out there who, for one reason or another, cannot or should not fast, in the traditional sense?
Fasting is an effective, God-given means to many good ends: recognizing our great need for His Presence, humbling ourselves before Him, relaxing the grip of the material over our lives, developing a keener awareness and sensitivity toward the poor and hungry.
There’s good news for the rest of us. Fasting is an effective, God-given means to many good ends: recognizing our great need for His Presence, humbling ourselves before Him, relaxing the grip of the material over our lives, developing a keener awareness and sensitivity toward the poor and hungry. Abstaining from the consumption of food is not, however, the only way to achieve these ends.
What else can I do?
- Take a break from consumerism. Commit to living with what I have and forego shopping for new clothes, food, gadgets or “goodies” for the Lenten season. Find out how dependent I am on that coffee run or snack stop by making my own treats with what I’ve got in my pantry.
- Practice gratitude. Thank God for what I have. Be grateful that, without starving, I can live on the surplus hiding in my kitchen and, without shivering, I can venture outdoors with the clothes I already own. Record my observations in a prayer journal to keep this experience fresh in my mind.
- Practice self-control. Strive to eliminate a particular bad habit or attitude from my life. Quit gossiping. Stop complaining. Catch myself in the midst of an envious thought, repent quickly, and get back to giving thanks for all the blessings in my life.
- Be quiet. Set aside cherished activities or “go to” entertainment during Lent. Skip the Netflix. Shut down that computer. Silence the phone and take a quiet walk while having a chat with God.
- Identify with the poor. I may be part of a church body that cares for those in poverty. But how much do I personally interact with them? I could learn their names. Listen to their stories. Pray for them, by name, and with their specific concerns in mind. Take the money I’ve saved from cutting down on food and entertainment and be a blessing to someone in need.
- Let go. Clean out my closet, office, or attic. Give away or donate anything that’s collecting dust. Let go of possessions that might be useful to me “someday” – and let them be of use to someone who needs them right now. Remind myself that my security and identity are in Christ – not in material things.
- Think long term. Consider which of these short-term activities I might incorporate into my ongoing routine. Can I limit restaurant visits to weekends through the summer? Stay connected with and occasionally help out the family who can’t make ends meet until the end of the school year? Keep a prayer or gratitude journal going until the end of the year? Skip social media on Sunday evenings and replace it with prayer – indefinitely?
Whatever forms of fasting I pursue, I know that God will meet me in the midst of them. He will find me, not because my actions have drawn Him in my direction, but because He sees my heart. He loves me and accepts my small sacrifices, given in the pursuit of knowing Him and becoming like Him. My prayer is that you will, too, use this season of self-denial to cling more closely to the Father who sees and love you this much.
written by Major Christine Rock, Empire Division, USA East