Why would anyone willingly deprive themselves of food (or anything else they liked)?
The reasons are myriad and personal, but fasting boils down to an exercise in self-control. And if you can control yourself, you can control your world.
In the Gospels, the disciples were empowered by Jesus to perform miracles. He wasn’t the only one who could walk on water or heal the sick. At one point (Matt. 17; Mark 9), the disciples met with a demon in a child that was too powerful for them to handle, but Jesus was able to get the job done. When they asked him why they couldn’t do it, he told them that particular type of demon only comes out by prayer and fasting.
Maybe you have some demons that you can shake on your own. For the rest, you may need to fast.
First of all, you should be clear about what your fast will look like. Whatever you decide to do is fine, but you should be sure about it before you begin. Perhaps you want to go 10 days only eating fruits and vegetables. Maybe for the next 3 days, you won’t eat anything until 6pm. Or, you might choose to eat normally, but only drink water for 7 days (no soda, juice, alcohol, etc.). Especially the first time or two, it is helpful to write down what will and will not be allowed and for how long. Also, write down what you hope to accomplish by fasting. It may look like this:
“For the rest of this month, I will abstain from all forms of meat (beef, pork, poultry, fish, goat, etc.) and also all bread, cakes, pies, cookies, candy, ice cream, and other sugary and/or processed foods and dairy. Eggs and sugar free gum are permitted during this time. I am doing this to help myself find a new job and because I want my mother’s chemotherapy to be successful.” Sign your statement.
When you design your fast the way you want it to be and put it in writing, the chances are much better that you’ll stick with it. Of course, it must pose a challenge and require sacrifice, but there’s no reason to set yourself up for failure with unreasonably high expectations.
Life is funny: swear off cake, and a co-worker will show up with your favorite kind and expect you to partake. Give up cigarettes, and you will find a loosie on the ground within 72 hours. When I was a freshman at Morehouse, I gave up soda for Lent. One day into it, some marketers came to campus giving away a brand new, great-tasting, refreshing soda by the caseload. Not the six-pack, the CASELOAD. That’s how it is when you’re trying to get over.
When these tests arise, you know you’re on the right track. When you get by without breaking the agreement you made with yourself, you move closer to your goal. It may be hard to understand how refusing a cookie can help your resume get to the top of the pile. Think of it this way: if you give in to the temptation, you’ll feel weak, and when you don’t get that job, you won’t be surprised. By resisting, you’ll feel strong, and when you feel confident, things go your way–they just do. Try it.
When you’re fasting, focus on what you can have. Don’t waste time and energy thinking about the things you can’t have–doing this will only make you want them more. Whatever foods or drinks you can have, take the time to enjoy them. You don’t know how satisfying 4 bananas can be until you are truly hungry. Hunger is something that most people reading this blog know very little (or nothing) about–fasting can change that.
Use the fast as an opportunity to pass time by throwing yourself into your work or a hobby. When you’re occupied, the hours fly by.
Finally, tell as few people as possible that you’re fasting. You should be proud of yourself, but few things are uglier to me than pious pride. “I would join you guys for drinks, but I’m fasting.” Who asked you? And don’t go around looking all hungry and ashy trying to get sympathy. Part of the challenge of it all is appearing normal while you’re suffering. See if you can get through it without telling anyone.
You will suffer at some point in your fast, but so what? You were suffering before the fast, that’s why you decided to try it. At least during a fast, you’re in control and the suffering is constructive.
*Please consult a doctor if you have any health issues that might make fasting a bad idea.