Fasting 101

As we begin the season of Lent there can be a lot of chatter about fasting, and we want to guard our hearts against missing the point entirely. It’s good to give up the things in our lives to which we tend to become attached. It’s not a bad thing that we give up social media, television, desserts, shopping, etc. We can all agree that in the course of a year we have probably packed a great deal of *stuff* into our lives that needs cleaned out. But if we mentally check a “fasting” box and move on, then we are going to miss the point of our fasting — to miss God’s idea of fasting — this Lent.

The point of fasting and prayer is to be able to hear God’s voice and do his will. It is good to fast from things that we are attached to so that we will be attached to God instead. It is also good to fast from things that take our time so that we have more time to spend with God. But it can be easy to get caught up in the spiritual practice of fasting and miss the point of it, which is to hear God’s voice…AND then do His will. What is God’s will? What kind of direction should we look for from Him when we fast? What is He going to say to us?

One of the readings in the Liturgy of The Hours for Ash Wednesday is from Isaiah 58. In this passage, God pretty explicitly lays out what His idea of fasting is and what kind of result it should have in our lives. Look at verses 6-7:

“This rather is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking free every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.”

Pretty clear, right? But let’s break it down a step further. If we are fasting with ears listening and hands ready for the Lord’s work, then we are going to personally hear God tell us:

  • to stand against injustice…especially the injustice to which we have personally contributed
  • to free those oppressed…especially those whom we have participated in oppressing
  • to feed the hungry…especially the ones he puts in front of our face or next to our car
  • to shelter the homeless…especially those living on the streets of our own communities
  • to clothe the naked…especially since our closets usually hold an abundance beyond necessity
  • to not turn our backs on our own…especially that family member or friend that you often avoid serving or helping

That certainly brings Isaiah into our modern lives, doesn’t it? Times haven’t really changed all that much throughout the course of history, and the human heart hasn’t changed either. What was hard for Israel then is still hard for us now; and sometimes that is why we get caught up in how many hours of TV we won’t watch or how many pieces of cake we won’t eat. It’s easier to fixate on that rather than tune our ears to God’s voice. His voice makes us uncomfortable, and that discomfort is the true indicator of what we should be fasting from this Lent.

If it seems unnatural to raise a voice against injustice, then we have been silent too long. If taking action against oppression seems hard, then we have been passive too often. If feeding, sheltering, and clothing the poor makes us uncomfortable, then we are not living close enough to them.  If giving of ourselves seems inconvenient, then we many not be as close to Christ as we think.

Let’s not walk through this Lent feeling good about our fasting but holding our fingers in our ears. Scripture has told us what kind of fast He desires. Throughout Lent, we will frequently recite the following antiphon: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” God has really already spoken to us; will we open our ears to his voice and our hearts to His will?


Copyright 2018 Jessica Ptomey