Let’s Take Baby Steps
Written by Gabriele Replogle
I don’t think I had ever observed fasting growing up. Perhaps my parents had done it on occasion, without making much to-do about it… but it was never something that was a communal activity – one I could learn by just watching or by picking up through osmosis. My church wasn’t liturgical and I didn’t learn the word “Lent” until I was an adult. Maybe this is where you find yourself as well. Fasting, like many physical activities, has many lessons that can only be learned through practice.
Our culture doesn’t help with its incessant focus on dieting, obsession over food, and overabundance of food choices. Let’s just be honest, talking about FOOD is a bit exhausting and can bring up loads of guilt and shame with a whole lifetime of baggage. For those who might have escaped this pothole that is our American food issues, we still have lots to learn: If I fast, why should I do it, how, and how long? Why try?
One of my first attempts at fasting was in college. In order to build up my spiritual muscles I wanted to try this new-fangled thing called fasting. Once a week, instead of eating during breakfast and lunch, I would subsist off of large glasses of juice and chocolate milk and occasionally a Ruby Red Grapefruit 12 oz to get me through my energy slumps. I knew very little about my dietary needs and assumed I just needed those calories to not pass out or something. Other than being an oddball at meal times or removing myself from community-eating altogether, life was pretty normal. I think God honored those simple childlike attempts at a new discipline. I had more time for prayer, more time for solitude, and learned some self-control.
I don’t think I ever ‘got good’ at this discipline and recently it was medically inadvisable to fast as a pregnant and/or nursing mom. But that’s the beauty of fasting: It’s not just about ‘food’ itself, but about abstaining. It’s about making space. Removing something so that more of something else can come in. Fasting can be extremely creative and diverse. Feeling too bogged down with your compulsive buying? Try not shopping for a week. Have a propensity to numb yourself with digital content? Try a media fast. Maybe 1 hour is all you can do, maybe a day, maybe a week. Failure isn’t messing up and watching a 2 minute clip, it’s in not trying. You can curb the lizard brain: The one that says Your body MUST be placated, consoled, and comforted OR IT WILL DIE!
As a young adult, I was a dramatic romantic who also had a tendency to talk about her boy crush for all hours of the day. My friends and I decided we would have boy fasts where we were not allowed to talk about our crush for a period of time. Trust me: I think my friends appreciated this fast as my lack of incessant drooling made way for a little more variety in our days’ conversation pieces. In my married life, fasting during Lent has been giving up complaining. Well, ok let’s be honest, trying to give up complaining.
So while FASTING typically means abstaining from food and drink, it’s not limited to that. If you’ve already baby-stepped in this area and want to test your spiritual chops you can always progress in duration and length. Jesus and others (even people not part of the trinity) have fasted from food for 40 days. This should be done with preparation and probably under supervision (spiritual and physical and medical).
While fasting food is a physical feat for spiritual purposes, fasting for physical purposes with spiritual benefits is permissible too. Do you crave food before you crave God? Does your energy suffer because you choose food that hurts your body instead of fuels it? Fasting with a focus on God will also improve your health, making you more healthy, energetic, and better able to serve God and others. There isn’t a narrow list of ‘how to do it right’, but with intention and persistence, there will be payoff.
Matthew 6:17-19 MSG “When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don’t make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won’t make you a saint. If you ‘go into training’ inwardly, act normal outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. God doesn’t require attention-getting devices. He won’t overlook what you are doing; he’ll reward you well.”
WRITE THIS WAY:
Consider what fasting Jesus is calling you to do this Lent. Think about what you need to make space for and use the time you would be eating/internet surfing/watching TV/shopping to do that activity. Meditate on Jesus’ words in Matthew 4:4 “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Check out Richard Foster’s chapter on ‘Fasting’ Celebration of Discipline with real specific and practical advice on how to fast. Or online in places like: https://www.wikihow.com/Fast-As-a-Christian or http://www.daniel-fast.com/
About the Author:
Gabriele Replogle joined the Commonway family when she married her husband in 2010. She has enjoyed returning to Indiana and planting roots in ‘Middletown’ USA after living on both coasts and has her childhood dream job of being a stay at home mom of four children. She is currently trying to curb her lizard brain this Lent season and she sometimes wishes it were spiritual to fast things like ‘cooking dinner for you family’ or to create space in her life by giving up grocery shopping.