In many traditions, we’d begin this discussion by talking about YOU - should you fast from media, what you want to accomplish in your fast, why you want to fast, what you think God wants to teach you in your fast. But instead, I have this incredibly freeing truth to tell you: It’s not about you.
Obviously you’re involved, but you aren't the starting point, or the ending point. So, instead we’ll start with God.
God instituted the first fast. You probably remember the story: There were a bunch of fruit trees in a garden made specifically for man (still not about you, sorry). There was one that was not to be eaten from. Fasting.
It was good food - good to look at, good for nutrition, good to the taste, brain food. Man decided it was too good to do without, so he broke the fast. So, now it’s all about food.
Fasting predates the Law, was codified in the law, was assumed to be a fact of the Christian life by Christ Himself. It’s something we are to be doing, and it has an essential function in our lives beyond that of weight loss.
The Purpose-Driven FastWhy do we fast from food, aside from the fact that we've been commanded to do so by Christ?
- To master the body. St Paul said he disciplined his body, so that, having preached to others, he would not be disqualified from the race himself. If we can master our stomach by something as simple as food choices, perhaps we can be given the grace to go after the big challenges, like the tongue. We are abstaining from thing as we would in a medical fast, so we can be healed. It is an obedience under prescription.
- To work together as a body. Many of our friends like to quote “...Appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” from Matthew 6. This is one of a series of injunctions to practice the primary disciplines of Lent - fasting, prayer and almsgiving - in a manner of humility. This humility is exactly what we need in order to “consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching (Hebrews 10).” We are the body of Christ, learning to work together so our light can shine before men. “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds (Hebrews 12).”
- To remember every body. We eat less to spend less, to give more. We give more of our prayers, time, and things. These take a thoughtfulness and intentionality that requires labor, something we often do not have the time and energy for unless we’ve purposely set it aside.
Some Reasons Not to Fast
- You have discussed your needs, physically and spiritually, with your spiritual director, and he has recommended that you not fast, or that you follow the advice of your physician, or that you moderate your fast in some way. Remember, this is not a solo event, it is an act of obedience prescribed by the Church. Follow your prescription.
- You want to look and sound spiritual. We covered the importance of humility above.
- Everybody else is doing it. This may not be a bad reason actually - it certainly provides more chance for encouragement as you attempt the fast - but it also doesn’t necessarily provide you with the impetus to replace what you forego with good works.