Fasting (and not just from food) can help turn the focus away from ourselves and towards God and our neighbors.
Two things have coincided in my life recently. First of all, intermittent fasting keeps popping up in conversations and on the news.
And secondly, we’ve hit a summertime slump in our house.
The thrill of warm weather and more free time has lost its late-May sheen. The days are humid and hot here, and by the afternoon my boys and I grow restless. I know I should just order us all outside to the sprinkler to burn off some idleness, but the prospect of extra sun and perspiration makes me reluctant to get up and moving.
It turns out that this sluggishness is present in all aspects of my life. I have been dragging my feet to get to prayer in the evenings, dragging my feet to get to confession and Mass. I’ve had a few heavy conversations lately, hearing about the suffering people in my life are undergoing, and I just feel overwhelmed by it and stuck under the heaviness.
The wakeup call I needed
Well, I found a wakeup call that has gently scooped me up from the slump. And while I’m not out taking a daily jog, it at least has me on my feet feeling revived, instead of wallowing on the couch. The key to my revival is a tool I didn’t think I’d revisit until Lent of next year: fasting.
This description of fasting by Pope Francis resonated with me, “Fasting wakes us up. It makes us more attentive to God and our neighbor. It revives our desire to obey God, who alone is capable of satisfying our hunger.” In this same address, our Holy Father mentions that fasting will help you if “you are disturbed by the spread of iniquity in the world, you are concerned about the chill that paralyzes hearts and actions.”
This message is spot on for me right now. I need to wake up with a focus reoriented away from myself and towards God and my neighbor. And just when I am frustrated by the pain and sin I see around me, I have an antidote.
Combining prayer with fasting is a Christian tradition tracing its way back to Jesus Himself. So, I brainstormed how to put this into action.
Types of fasting
One way to fast is to fast from food. Intermittent fasting is quite popular currently as a way to live better — studies show it can help heart health, weight control, and overall well-being. I would like to try it sometime. But if you are pregnant or breastfeeding (or both!) any type of fasting from food is not the best idea.
Alternatively, if hangry is a word people use to describe you regularly, it might be a good idea to find a non-food fasting option out of charity for yourself and others. So, I turned to other ideas about how to fast.
Fasting from sadness to be filled with gratitude struck me, so I thought about practical ways to do that. I landed on writing down three things I was grateful for every day, and inviting everyone in my family to share something they were grateful for at dinner.
I have also heard from other people who recommended the different ways they fast. They give up their smartphone for certain periods of the day, sleep without a pillow some nights, or eat foods that are good for their bodies but not their personal favorite. Some people fast from their favorite music or podcasts on certain days of the week.
I’ve tried some of these ideas in the past weeks and have offered up that fasting for specific people. It has helped so much. I’m not sure why it is, but somehow, I feel more alive and less overwhelmed. The world’s problems are still huge, but the tangible act of giving something up and replacing it with goodness has helped me stay grounded.
If you’re looking for a spiritual sprinkler for your sluggish summer soul, fasting might be worth a try.