If you ask someone what it means to fast, 9 times out of 10, you’ll get, “It means to abstain from eating.” or “It’s when you give up food for Lent.” Fasting has a negative connotation, in part because it’s often associated with religion, which also has a negative connotation.
That’s unfortunate. Why? Because fasting is really about self-control and it’s severely underrated in today’s society. Whether we’re talking food or screen time, it’s about moderation. French fries and Facebook? Portion control is up to us. In America and a lot of the world, excess and gluttony is the norm. We sit at an endless buffet of many things, and it’s so easy to overeat.
How many times have you noticed people sitting next to each other on their phones rather than talking? Families distracted by Instagram or Snap Chat instead of being present in the moment with each other. It’s sad. Which is why we all need to make a habit out of fasting. At stake are our minds, bodies, souls and relationships.
Please permit me to broadly define fasting as the willing abstinence or reduction from something for a period of time. In that context, fasting and self-control are synonymous. When you fast, you are giving up something to make space for something else. You are demonstrating control of yourself. There’s something powerful that takes place when we willingly surrender satisfaction in the world to make space for something meaningful. When we fast food, entertainment or any other material thing to make room for meaningful connection with others, we’re all better off. And when we allow ourselves to fill some of that created space for connection with God, then he will respond to our hunger with abundance.
Fasting is an important spiritual discipline and is tied to the principle of the synergy between the body and the soul. I believe there is not a dichotomy between the body and soul, but rather they are a united whole. In other words, our bodies are not an enemy, but a partner and collaborator with our souls. When we control what our minds are exposed to, when we exhibit portion control when eating, when we create space for our spirits to be renewed, our souls benefit. We’re able to find meaning in life. Our purpose comes in to focus. We see the important things more clearly. We stop burning bridges and start building them.
Here’s an example from my transformation. Before fasting became a habit, if someone got angry with me, I got angry back. If they raised their voice, I raised my voice. If they raised it higher, I raised mine even higher. Things would escalate pretty quickly and emotions would get out of control. Now, if someone raises their voice at me, I lower mine. I calmly practice tactical empathy. I’m gentle. Gentleness defuses conflict. It de-escalates anger. Sometimes in the face of attack, lies and unfair criticism, I say nothing. I remain silent.
Here’s what I’ve learned. Gentleness is persuasive. The more pleasant my words, the more persuasive I am. It’s the mark of maturity. Wise, mature people are pleasant. Fools are rude. You’re never persuasive when you’re abrasive. And I have the habit of fasting to thank for that revelation.
A final thought about fasting. You will not develop the habit by merely trying. You must train for it. It’s analogous to an athlete in training. You can’t just try to run the marathon. You have to train for it.
Fasting is about balanced thinking, feeling and acting. It’s when your mind, heart and action achieve equilibrium.