For a long time, I resisted fasting for spiritual growth based on my own heart. I knew that I was not approaching fasting with the proper intentions, so rather than continuing to parody a worthy act of faith, I decided it was better not to participate. Even when I heard from others about the spiritual benefits of fasting, I believed I couldn't do it properly. Now, I wonder if I was right to give up so quickly.
A little backstory. Ever since my husband and I welcomed our first child at age 21, I have ridden the roller coaster of weight gain and loss that so many women can't seem to get off of. With four pregnancies over ten years, my metabolism has been through the wringer. Plus (lucky me) as I age, the weight becomes harder and harder to lose. I have a constant, nagging voice telling me that if I could just pull myself together, I could go back to the size I feel I should be.
My experience with spiritual fasting painfully highlighted where my focus was. Instead of learning to rely on God or deepening my prayer life through fasting, self-absorbed thoughts kept intruding. “Maybe I'll lose weight” I'd think as my stomach growled throughout the day. I was ashamed that I kept thinking about shrinking my body when was I was aiming for growth in my soul.
They say that fasting will show you your brokenness—not to crush your spirit, but so that you can turn to God, repent, and grow. I definitely saw my weaknesses. The trouble is, I saw my need to change my mental dialogue, but I didn't push forward into true repentance and change. I just stopped where I was.
What if I did that in other areas of my life? I am so far from perfect. I mess up constantly in my faith walk, in my marriage, in my parenting, in my mission—what if I just said, “Oh, well. I guess it's just not for me.” That would be ridiculous.
I think part of me didn't believe in the importance or the benefits of fasting.
Fasting was a normal and expected faith experience in the biblical era. When Jesus speaks of fasting to his disciples, he says “when you fast”, not “if you fast.” (Matthew 6:16-17) Jesus himself endured a crazy-long 40 day fast before beginning his ministry. (Matthew 4:2) We see fasting in the early church connected with prayer before making big decisions. (Acts 14:23) In the Old Testament, people fasted for various reasons, including grieving, when pleading with God for themselves or others, to show remorse, and to prepare for a big life event.
I didn't grow up fasting, and my church doesn't do corporate fasting or participate in Lent. However, I have seen a definite rise in learning how to fast for spiritual growth in my online communities. In our current affluent culture where we are constantly feasting our minds and bodies, we crave slowing down and emptying ourselves of temporary pleasures for fulfillment that goes deeper and lasts longer.
Plus, fasting is good for us! Various studies claim that periods of fasting improve the workings of our digestive system, sleep patterns, skin, immune system, insulin sensitivity, cellular regeneration, mental health, and more. Fasting combined with prayer has been shown to reduce anxiety, clear mental blocks, allow for emotional release, help us overcome temptations, grow the fruits of the Spirit, and increase our dependence on God instead of our own strength. That all sounds amazing to me!
When researching how to fast properly, I stumbled on this awesome quote:
“A diet may change the way you look, but a fast can change the way you see—and that has far more eternal value.” - Lisa Bevere on her website, Messenger International.
This past little while, I have tasted the possibilities of a spiritual fast, and I crave more.
I recently began a 16:8 cycle of intermittent fasting. My goals were weight loss, improved energy, and gut health. Only a couple days into my intermittent fasting, I had a Moment, of the capital 'M' variety. I was sitting alone, still, and distraction-free (rare enough for me these days!). I had recently been watching a show about a family, and I was thinking about my hopes for my family life. I had a moment of absolute clarity where the mental fog rolled away. I saw how poorly I was living up to my dreams for my marriage, my children, and my mission. It brought tears to my eyes as the hopes God planted in my heart were pruned and watered.
The amazing thing was that I didn't set out to fast for spiritual reasons. I wanted the physical perks of fasting, yet God gave me the spiritual benefits anyway!
This is new territory for me. I'm beginning to see how I can fast for both physical and spiritual benefits. God designed both my body and my soul and has given me ways to care for them together.
I can use my fast to learn to deny myself short-term pleasure for long-term fulfillment—an invaluable skill that spills over into all areas of my life, including being a wife, mom, and writer, and especially in my faith journey.
No matter why I started a fast, I can use a rumbling tummy to remind me to pray, and I can pray that God shapes my heart so that I crave eternal spiritual beauty above fleeting physical beauty.
As I live with the feelings of being "hangry", I can grow in patience, gentleness, and compassion towards others.
When I break my fast, I can be grateful for the blessings of a full fridge and pantry.
With the health benefits I gain from fasting, I can better pour into my marriage, family, and mission.
Instead of waiting to have my heart just right to fast for spiritual reasons, I can learn and grow on the fly. That, to me, is incredibly freeing.
Please note: If you're thinking of fasting, make sure you do your research first. There can be uncomfortable or dangerous side-effects from fasting and it is not for everybody. Always check with your doctor before making changes to your diet. You can also experience fasting with things other than food!
Have you ever fasted for health or faith? What was your experience? Please share with me in the comments!