The Fasting Paradox

Nothing says gorge like a modern American Thanksgiving. Which makes it a good time to state the not so obvious: Less is more.

Taking a break from something can bring better results than doubling down one’s practice of it. This fact doesn’t sit well with my Protestant work ethic, but I have found it to be true nevertheless.

If it’s true for many of life’s activities, it is certainly true for eating.

Like other spiritual disciplines, fasting is a challenge for contemporary Americans. Among vending machines, convenience stores and “quick service” restaurants, money is the only obstacle between me and a bite when the first growl hits.

And with big food companies’ driving down the cost of high fat, high carb, high calorie consumables, money is less of an obstacle than ever.

To quote the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippian church, my god is often in my stomach. As long as it’s full, I don’t have to confront the underlying pain and unrest of my own soul.

Hence, the invitation to fast. Author Richard Foster notes that in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus didn’t say “if” but “when” you fast.

Saying no to constant physical comfort means saying yes to much more. When we fast, longings surface, misplaced priorities get exposed and self-control builds.

“Human cravings and desires are like rivers that tend to overflow their banks; fasting helps keep them in their proper channels,” Foster wrote in Celebration of Discipline.

When one fasts, he depends on a higher source for a livelihood he can’t deliver with his own grasping hands.

In fasting, there is release. We release control of the things that are actually controlling us. We find real freedom that’s different from the first world freedom to snack at a moment’s notice.

The Apostle Peter helps us navigate the bounty around us: “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil.”

For the spiritual, Foster says fasting is not just abstaining; it’s actually feasting on the word of God.

For the secular, a periodic break for a hard working digestive system certainly benefits the human body. Nutrition supplement stores offer various cleansing aids to maximize the gastrointestinal advantages of a fast.

Of course, fasting from food is one of many potential fasts. We should probably fast from anything we believe, deep down, we can’t live without. Taking breaks from media, telephones, advertising, our consumer culture – all these would do our souls well.

Saying “no” to Sunday Night Football or Monday Night Football or Thursday Night Football might lead to saying yes to a more fulfilling pastime, or at least some stronger relationships. Likewise, foregoing a “can’t miss” sale may spark a more special homespun gift idea.

Please hear me: Thanksgiving Day is not the time to fast from food or football. But it is a good time to contemplate a long lost practice.

Though esoteric today, fasting was not always so uncommon. In fact, it was once prominent enough to name one of our three daily meals for it: break-fast.

Perhaps it’s time to give fasting a seat at the table again. Happy Thanksgiving.

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