Fasting, it seems, is something of a lost art these days. As people of faith we are quite familiar with our Christian obligation to pray, to serve others and to be generous toward those in need. But sometimes fasting gets lost in the shuffle.
And so, as we enter this 40 Days for Life campaign, let?s reexamine fasting.
What is it? Why do we do it? And how do we do it?
While fasting has traditionally meant voluntarily going without food for an extended period, it can also mean any form of self-denial that we undertake.
Why do we do it? The short answer is because we?re following the example of Jesus:
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry. (Matthew 4:1-2)
The longer answer is that fasting provides a powerful opportunity for us to reject sin and to intensify our prayer. It helps us tune out distractions. For example, the uncomfortable sensation of hunger reminds us that it?s time to eat. But when we fast, that hunger can serve as a reminder to pray! And when we recognize that our hunger is but a mild annoyance compared with Christ?s suffering on the Cross, we?ve got the perfect opportunity to reflect on God?s tremendous love for us (as well as abortion-vulnerable mothers and babies, post-abortive mothers and those who work in the abortion industry).
Self-denial is also a powerful reminder that our hope is in God alone. We?ve all gotten up on a Monday morning and said something like ?If I didn?t have my coffee, I?d never survive this day.?
Well, if we give up our coffee during 40 Days for Life, we?re forced to turn somewhere else to survive Monday mornings. Why not turn to Christ, who reminds us, ?My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness? (2 Corinthians 12:9)? The grace of God will inject more life into our day than a shot of espresso!
All throughout Scripture?in both the Old Testament and the New Testament?God?s people deny themselves as they seek to reject sin and turn toward the Lord. During this 40 Days for Life campaign we, too, fast to reject the sin of abortion and to unite ourselves with the Lord of Life who is working through us to end abortion.
How do we fast? Five ways you can deny yourself during this 40 Days for Life campaign!
OK, so you?re ready to fast. Most of us probably aren?t in position to go 40 straight days without food the way Jesus did in the desert. (That?s ok. He?s God, and we?re not!) So what can we do to deny ourselves over the next six weeks?
- Decrease your food consumption. We can?t go 40 straight days without food, but we can decrease the amount we eat. Perhaps we limit our portion sizes so that we eat enough to power our day?but not enough to fully satisfy ourselves. Or maybe we decide not to snack between meals. Perhaps we can even skip a meal. Any time we eat less than we?d like, we?re trusting Jesus? words ?One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God? (Matthew 4:4).The key here is to use good judgment. Our goal is to draw near to the Lord, not to pass out from malnourishment. If you decide to limit your food consumption, make sure your fasting plan makes sense in accordance with your state of life. After all, there?s nothing pro-life about going without food for a day if you?re an expectant mother or work with heavy machinery for a living!
- Give up a certain type of food. The night before each 40 Days for Life campaign begins, I like to treat myself to the most delicious hot fudge sundae I can find. And then I set sweets aside until after the campaign. Another food we might give up is meat, which is often eaten to celebrate God?s blessings. This was true in Jesus?s time as the return of the prodigal son was celebrated by feasting on the fatted calf (Luke 15: 11-32). It?s equally true in our time. Just think of your Thanksgiving turkey or perhaps an Easter lamb. During 40 Days for Life, we can eat simpler meals focused more on fruits, vegetables and grains. If you find yourself saving money on your grocery bill as a result, you can even contribute the savings to your local pregnancy center.
- Turn down the temperature on your morning shower. Fasting doesn?t have to involve food. A nice, steamy shower is a rather comfortable way to start the day. But during 40 Days for Life, we can give up those hot showers. Of course, I?m not suggesting you give up showering altogether for these 40 days. That would be imposing a sacrifice on your loved ones! But you can turn down the temperature. A lukewarm shower gets you clean just as well as a hot one. If you're truly daring, you might even go with cold showers for 40 days.
- Replace your beverage of choice with water. It?s not the most mature of preferences, but I love drinking Grape Crush. If you?ve got more grown-up tastes, you might prefer coffee or a glass of wine. Whatever it is we enjoy drinking, we can replace it with water during our 40-day fast.
- Fast from media. Over the last three 40 Days for Life campaigns, I?ve been blessed to get on the road and travel to about 120 different campaigns across the United States in Canada. My rental cars usually include complimentary access to satellite radio. As a millennial, my guilty pleasure?and I?m not proud to admit this?involves seeking out the 90s pop station. However, I came to realize that as I traverse the continent singing Hanson?s regrettable 1997 hit ?Mmmbop,? I?m not spending time in prayer. If we are really looking to tune out distractions, there?s nothing better to give up than certain forms of entertainment media. Maybe it?s music. Maybe it?s television. The Facebook pages of many of my friends go dark this time of year. But time spent pursuing whatever trivial entertainment we happen to enjoy can be more fruitfully dedicated to prayer.
Let?s hear from you. What do you think are some good options for fasting during 40 Days for Life?