This Lent, I’ve been working on a deeper sense of fasting. Of course, that’s supposed to be between me and the Lord, but I thought I’d share just a few things that I’m learning about myself and that perhaps these things will resonate with you. If not, just move along with your day, don’t let me be a distraction.
So that’s the first thing about fasting: Distraction. So many distractions that can try to pull us away.
Distractions make us want to give up.
If you are fasting on a fast day on bread and water, you suddenly see all the luscious fruit on the countertop from your last grocery shop and you secretly wonder if you don’t enjoy it now, it may go bad by tomorrow. Distraction! Or as you’re preparing the evening meal for others, you decide that maybe a glass of wine would be just what you need. Distraction!! These are the moments when fasting is really a test of your will. Identifying your distractions is helpful.
To decide to stay with your fast is the goal. So to defend your fast against distraction, it’s okay to put the fruit or the wine in another room on a fast day. It’s also okay to plan a recipe with the food you are fasting from today (or for the whole of Lent) that you will cook tomorrow (or on Easter). That way you can think about the gift that food truly is for you as you fast from it today. And you’ll enjoy a richer blessing of it tomorrow or in Eastertide.
Distraction and the temptation to end your fast prematurely will be less likely if you find the fast that works for you — that is, making fasting something truly sacrificial and something that lends to a conversation between you and the Lord, but one that is not negatively impacting those around you. Otherwise, every distraction will equal a fail in your mind, and you might consider skipping your fast all together. Talk to the Lord when you feel distracted and talk to your feet too… move away from the distraction!
The goal here is tame the will and not crush the spirit. And to let your fast be something that you can lift up for love of Jesus.
Here’s something I’ve learned about myself when I am fasting that may be a good example. In the last few weeks, I’m finding I’m less productive work-wise on a fast day. (This is a once a week bread and water fast that I’m doing). Translation: I’m a bit sleepier, slower, and finding that coffee really is my friend. I don’t want to be a grumpy faster or non-productive at work, especially when I have to lead a class or give a presentation. So what to do? If my bread and water fast days occur on a night when I have to teach, etc., I allow a little coffee into my schedule. I have to know myself, and I have to be considerate of those I interact with. I’m still working up to the full on bread and water fasts, but when I need to “on”, I choose to modify the fast. So my bread and water fast days may have additional coffee/tea breaks if needed, especially when I have to interact with others.
If moving my fast day is an option, I might do that, too. So, you might think I’m a slacker. I’m mean, why not just soldier on and keep that fast day as scheduled? Am I not holy enough to do that? Am I cheating or something?
This brings me to the second thing that fasting teaches me: The need to achieve is strong in this one.
Patience, Not Perfectionism.
Fasting is not about perfectionism. Perfectionism is — A DISTRACTION!!!!!!
Honestly… I’m also trying to let go of perfectionism. Perfectionism tells me I can do it all and it shows the world I can do it. My goal is to keep this between me and Jesus and not get all self righteous about my performance of this fast or task. Trust me, sometimes it takes more humility for me, and is a greater sacrifice, to change the day and to give up my control of things, than to keep the date I had scheduled. May the Lord be the Lord of my Day. Not me.
Finally, the third point about fasting and distraction… sometimes even delayed gratification is positive and moving you toward giving up full control, and that’s good too.
Delayed gratification is mortifying.
If you’re fasting from, say, television, suddenly it seems everyone you know is talking about the game you missed or the episode of such-and-such that you are now pining to see. The chatter from others, both in person or online, can be a real humbling of our need to part of the in-crowd among friends or colleagues.
(Fortunately, in the land of online streaming and DVR’s we are not really fasting from those things… we are merely post-poning our gratification… for eventually, we may indeed watch what we’ve missed and catch up.)
Certain moments like this remind me that even delayed gratification is worth doing. It is worth something not to live in an on-demand way, to accept rather humbly what comes our way, as if you are waiting for a surprise. You never know what God might send into the empty space of time you create for Him. It gives him the full access (dare I say the remote control access?) to our hearts, rather than us being in control.
Fasting is not a cruel Catholic joke. It’s meant to change us, to change what we depend on. Do I depend on myself or the Lord? If my fast does not have me seeking Jesus, then change it up. Yes, it’s okay to begin anew. To hit the restart button and select a fast that keeps you in closer contact with Christ.
So, for me, fasting is an exercise in giving up control… to say that its not my way or the highway, that I’m good with whatever the Lord is bringing my way today. He is the Lord of all Time, not me. He is Divine Providence, not me.
What does fasting build in me?
Gratitude and generosity, for starters.
I’m thankful for everything that Providence has supplied for me this Lent, and in many other ways.
That gratitude is allowing me to be more generous in giving alms and wanting to do more and give more and more over to Jesus. The more that I can hand myself over to Jesus, the more his Will will take root in me.
I want Jesus separate me from what I’m attached to, from what takes me away from him. And at the same time I humbly pray that I’m never separated from His Will.
#Fast Friday from last week.
#Fast Friday from two weeks ago: midlife, mid-Lent
Matthew Kelly on Fasting