We were fasting from sweets, and, let me tell you, it was rough.
This past summer, I had the great blessing and privilege to serve as a Life Teen Summer Missionary at Camp Covecrest. Each week, our missionary community chose a new fast to take on together, and, during our first week, we fasted from sweets. When I heard the news about our first fast, my brain melted and poured out of my ears. I was in for it, because sweets and I have a dangerously close relationship.
I remember thinking, “How in the world is this supposed to make me a better person? I’m not getting any holier by eating fewer churros at lunch!” In fact, I think back to one night at Covecrest during dinner. The dessert looked so delectable and my sweet deprived body was so irritable that I looked over to the missionary sitting next to me, shrugged my shoulders, and said, “I might just go ahead and eat it.” Suddenly, from across the table, I heard my missionary brother Steve implore me to remain faithful to my community. “No, don’t break your fast!” In that moment, I rolled my eyes (something from which I am now fasting), pushed my dessert to the side, and moved on from the situation, marking it as an obnoxious restriction of my freedom.
Now, as you might have guessed, at that dinner with Steve, I was missing the whole point of fasting! My focus fell almost exclusively on what I was losing from my fast. I hadn’t for a moment stopped to consider all of the graces I was gaining. Fortunately, since my experience as a Life Teen Summer Missionary, I’ve come to understand more fully the power, beauty, and freedom that fasting brings.
The Power of a Challenge
If anything, fasting is challenging. It’s no small feat to give up one’s bed for Lent and to sleep on the floor, and I can personally attest to the truth that fasting from social media for a few days is difficult. However, the challenge itself is not the reason why we fast. We fast to gain spiritual strength and intimacy with God, learning to rely more completely on Him as the fulfillment of all we need.
This spiritual growth can be various degrees of challenging, but we ought to remember that a harder fast a holier man does not make. Fasting from complaining about how tired you are may not be overly impressive, but a simple fast like this one could certainly make a great impact on your life. Conversely, fasting from your car and walking ten miles to school every day (please don’t do this) might look super gnarly and intense, but it may not necessarily constitute an inward conversion. Our goal when selecting a fast is not merely to choose something challenging, but to find a practical way to grow in holiness.
The Beauty of Freedom for Love
Fasting not only leads us to free ourselves from sins and habits which we currently struggle with, but it also gives us the strength to resist the temptation of falling into sin in the future.
So while fasting allows us to be free from sin, it also allows us to be free for love. Fasting helps us to fulfill our primary vocation to love God and others because it enables us to eliminate distractions and obstacles in our relationships. As we detach ourselves from things of this world and from sinful habits, we come to recognize the truth that our relationship with the Father is the only thing we really need.
If we look closely enough, we’ll see that every desire in our hearts ultimately leads us back to God. In fact, He gave us our desires precisely so we might find Him through them. Fasting from inessential things clarifies our desires and reveals to us the truth that our ultimate fulfillment lies only in our Father.
As my summer at Covecrest went along, my missionary community fasted from condiments, hot showers, snoozing our alarms, and several other things. My initial thoughts about our fasts focused mostly on how badly I wanted to eat sweets or not ever to take another cold shower ever again. However, as I grew throughout the summer, the fasts we kept as a missionary community began to reveal to me truths about God, others, and myself. My fasts took on a new significance as I began to see their core purpose of leading me back to the Father.
Some of my fasts which have most clearly led me back to God have been from social media. I love the way in which modern social media platforms give regular people a unique and amazing chance to tell their own stories, and Instagram is my favorite social medium. However, while these media can be powerful, they’re also perfect grounds for the enemy to tempt us into envy.
While scrolling through my Insta feed, I often find myself falling into traps of comparison and jealousy. “Why did this picture get more likes than mine? Why is his camera so much nicer than mine? Why are they hanging out without me?” In the past, when these comparisons have piled up to the point of weighing down my spirit and self-esteem, I’ve elected to fast from social media all together. Taking these periodic fasts from social media has helped me to step away from thoughts of jealousy and comparison and to remind myself that the only “likes” I need are from my Heavenly Father.
While discerning a fast, first examine your heart to discover what you ought to remove from your life. For example, if you’re struggling with treating your cell phone as an idol, you might take a weekend to fast from your phone and to re-center yourself outside the digital world. If you’re struggling with hearing God’s voice and responding to His call, you might fast from listening to music while you drive in order to give yourself some silence in which to hear the Lord. Or, if you’re struggling to incorporate prayer into your daily routine, you might fast from checking your phone right when you wake up, using that time instead to consecrate your day to God in prayer. The areas of our spiritual lives in which we need to grow will help us determine how we ought to fast.
The ultimate goal of fasting is to grow closer to Christ, so we will know we are fasting correctly if our relationship with Jesus is growing. If we are fasting well, we will see that our desire for God increases while our desires for things of this world decrease.
Fasting has the power and potential to defeat especially detrimental sins and habits, freeing us from the restraints of sin. Fasting clears our lives of distractions and pollutants and leads us to focus more wholly on God while becoming the greatest versions of ourselves in a beautiful freedom for love. Christ calls us to fast in order to love Him more intimately and exclusively. As brothers and sisters in Christ, let us respond to the call to spiritual growth through fasting.