Re-Defining Fasting

By Marjorie F. Eddington

Categories: Personal Growth and Progress, Sermon on the Mount

The battle of weight rages on. We often attack the problem as if it were wholly physical—we diet or fast or eat too much, etc. Diets usually do not work long term. The concept of denying ourselves something we really want and then using will-power to do it is fraught with problems. We’re focusing on the negative and trying to do it on our own, without God.

Moreover, weight problems are often tied to our emotional well-being—if we’re stressed about work, relationships, family, or feel unloved, unworthy, etc. So, we go to the gym, go on a cleanse, try to change the situation—often relying on our own will to accomplish our desired goal. And often our internal will is split. We’re trying not to want something we desperately want. Didn’t Jesus show us that it’s God’s will, not our own will, that’s important?

Jesus took fasting for granted—“when you fast” (Sermon on the Mount, Matt 6:16-18). Now some people fast for religious reasons, others for weight, still others for political reasons. But let’s examine fasting in a different light and even re-define it a bit. What if we see fasting as refining our character—as 1) refusing to indulge in thoughts or behaviors that would try to hide or ruin who God made us to be, and 2) replacing them with something better:

  • gaining a greater understanding of God;
  • relying more on God than on material theories or things;
  • being satisfied just the way we are, as God’s “image” and “likeness” (Gen 1:26).

As we lessen our dependence upon whatever crutch it may be—food, drugs, diets, fashion, health theories, screens, beliefs about aging, etc.—we express the dominion that God gave us (Gen 1:26). It works the other way, too: as we gain dominion, we mitigate the effect of appetite, passions, etc. So as we take dominion over our thoughts, we gain dominion over our bodies.

As we begin our fast, we may ask if anything in our character, in our emotional lives, needs refining, needs to be lifted, changed, or even eliminated. Are we trying to lessen the intensity of any of these emotions by eating over them? Maybe we’re holding onto self-condemnation. Maybe we judge, condemn, and criticize others.

However we want to refine our character, we can. For instance: What if we’d like to express more compassion, empathy, kindness, tolerance? We’d like to feel better about ourselves and our interactions with our family members and colleagues. Let’s fast from judgment, criticism, contempt, opinions, comparisons, condemnation. We’ll start small and go big. Fast from judgment of any kind just one hour at first, and then for three hours, then one day, and then three days, etc. Let’s refuse to give power to an ego that can be hurt or can hurt others. (Of course, we’re not going to lose our moral compass.)

That means every time we think a critical thought, or want to make someone else agree with us, or think we’re better than someone else, we stop that thought, say nothing, and change our thinking. We’re willing to let things be. We accept them as they are, even if we could argue that what they’re doing or saying is not good, healthy, factual, etc. Other people get to have their feelings and views, and we don’t have to condemn them for them, label them, or express contempt.

Remember, we’re not using will-power to accomplish anything. Rather, we’re letting God speak to our every thought and action. We’re letting God’s will be done. So we’re not trying to force our opinion on someone else. If we are, we won’t hear God’s direction. Others get to make their own choices. In a sense, we’re acknowledging each person’s God-given nature and focusing on that, rather than on all the mistakes.

As we let go of our opinions and judgments, we feel lighter, less burdened by criticism and contempt, less weighted down by comparisons and complaints. As we refine our character, we gain purer, clearer views of ourselves. As we gain new views, we act differently. Our bodies then align with these new thoughts. We will find our bodies are better balanced because our thoughts are more in tune with God.

Truly effective fasting is not so much about denying ourselves anything that is necessary to our spiritual growth. Rather, it’s about embracing God’s heavenly view of us and the world, which includes everything that is lovely, good, pure, kind, strong, truthful. We accept God’s view and deny the impulse to accept or nurture anything that would impede our spiritual growth and dominion. As a result, all the stuff that would try to tell us we’re driven by appetite, or we’re slaves to exercise, or that we’re just not good enough, or that this other person over there certainly isn’t good enough because he or she has the wrong political, religious, economic, family opinion/viewpoint … just fades away.

So when we fast, we find freedom, dominion, spiritual growth, and divine power. We discover greater control over our bodies because we’ve gained greater control over our thoughts or thought patterns. We’re satisfied with how God made us. And that’s a reason to fast.