Healthy Soul/Living Out Your Faith/My Life/Teen Life

Fasting Has Taught Me How to Love

What is love?

I recently asked this question at one of our Life Nights and got a variety of answers, most of them in song.

But, when it comes down to it, many of us struggle to find a definition of love that sticks. Most of our definitions of love revolve around feelings, particularly good feelings, but what happens when those good feelings are gone? Is that the end of love?

Real Love Is Sacrificial

Honestly, most of the world we live in today would tell you that if you don’t “feel in love” anymore or if your relationship is not serving you anymore, you should walk away because why bother? If you aren’t getting anything from a relationship, then what value does it have?

In classic style, St. John Paul II offered quite an opposite definition to our culture’s definition of love. He says that love is a choice, a decision to seek the good of another. This love involves sacrifice, self-denial, and a lot of effort.

Sacrificial love, doesn’t seek its own interests. It’s a love that says, what can I give? Rather than, what can I take? Granted, this kind of love has to be on both sides, otherwise it can easily become unhealthy. A relationship or friendship that includes sacrificial love is a friendship rooted in the understanding of the worth of the other person and a desire to sacrifice for them out of love and not duty. Once sacrifice becomes a duty, it is no longer freely given.

This love is the kind of love you will need in your future vocation, no matter what it is. Healthy marriages are sustained by an understanding of sacrificial love. Religious communities are driven by sacrifice and prayer. And, priests sacrifice every day for their bride, the Church. And sacrificial love is also what sustains good friendships and brings joy into family life.

Your vocation, your relationships, and your friendships will not work unless you learn how to love through sacrifice. One of the most powerful and practical ways to do this, in any stage of life, is fasting.

Fasting 101

Fasting isn’t just a way to lose weight or eat healthier (guilty!) fasting is an opportunity to love another person. And I know you may be thinking, uh Sarah, you’re crazy. Me not eating cake for a month has nothing to do with love. Which I definitely would have agreed with a few months ago.

But the more I learn about fasting and the more I realize the role it has played in my life and in my relationships, the more I want to shout from the rooftops how important it is.

Fasting is important in all times of the year, not just lent, because fasting teaches us how to love. In fasting we practice self-denial, sacrifice for the good of the other, and discipline.

When we fast with an intention, we can learn concretely how to be selfless. For example, I fast from sweets often (not all the time, I’m no saint) and in that I pray for specific intentions. Most recently, I’ve been fasting from games on my phone for those in Haiti. It may sound small but it’s hard when I have a night to myself and all I want to do is play candy crush. In those moments where I am tempted to break my fast, I instead pray for Haiti, and the suffering of that country. (If you want to donate to aid relief efforts in Haiti check this out.)

Long Lasting Love

When we learn how to sacrifice something and offer it up for someone else we are learning how to love. We learn how to lay down our lives for others. This sacrificial love is what we are called to. Not a love of fuzzy feelings or millions of snapchats. While those are good things, they aren’t the things that last.

Sacrifice for the good of the other is love that will stand the test of time. It is vocation love. It is God’s love, Christ’s love for us. Giving up our lives for others can mean that we physically die for them but it doesn’t have to. Sometimes it means that we lay down our wants and learn how to use that suffering as a means to serve, help, and pray for others.

I encourage you to start a monthly fast. Pick one thing a month to fast from and one person, family, or intention to pray for. General intentions like “my friends and family” won’t mean very much when you want that chocolate. It’s better to pray for something specific, like a sick family member or a friend struggling to know love. The more specific and the closer to your heart, the better.

We always have choices in how we learn about, think about, and speak about love. And I choose love that lasts. I choose love built on the good of the other. I choose love that models Christ. And to learn every day how to do that, I choose to fast and pray.

About the Author

Sarah McMahon

My life radically changed after a retreat in high school and God keeps surprising me every day. I am a youth minister in Illinois and I’ve only met one kind of candy I don’t like. I hate flying but I love new adventures so if you invent teleportation let me know @sarah_mcmahon6.

Want to write for Life Teen? Click Here to learn more.