Fasting To Focus, Or Focusing On The Fast?

I don’t remember the last time I actually felt real hunger.

The other day I didn’t have time for a decent breakfast before rushing out the door to work. So I grabbed a protein bar and munched on the way.

That morning was pretty busy. I didn’t have time to get up and grab a snack, which I do more often than I’d like to admit. By lunchtime, I was starting to feel hunger pangs, and I realized I almost never wait until I am actually feeling hunger before I eat.

In an earlier post I talked about fasting, and the struggle to conquer our passions. And here I am posting about food again, I’m making plain the struggle I’m having as we approach the Great Fast.

I know I’m supposed to be preparing to pray more, to study more, to give more. But I’m thinking about food. I haven’t even skipped a meal yet. In fact, I’m eating more lately, as if I’m a bear storing up fat reserves for the coming winter.

Cradle Orthodox must shake their heads at us rookies. They hear the same stories over and over as new converts talk about their struggles with food. Never mind the struggle over sin, or performing acts of charity and kindness to the widow or the fatherless or the destitute. Guys like me are pouring coals upon our own heads and wearing sackcloth over having to give up hamburgers for a month.

It’s got to get better, right?

Surely one day I’ll go into Great Lent with a peace that comes from having controlled my passions. Surely I will lean completely on Christ who suffered for me to help me in a time of mild discomfort.

I said in that earlier post that I’m hopeful. Yet today I’m discouraged. It really is all about food for me right now.

Regular readers: I’d like to ask you to consider leaving a comment below. It’s easy and doesn’t take much time, and would be an encouragement. Are you prepared for the fast? Do you struggle with your hunger, or has it become such a part of your life that you slide into Lent without missing a beat?

Comments 8

  1. We have been struggling with the fast since our Christmation.Last year we changed the way that we eat completely and so for Lent we concentrated on praying together more, and reading the bible together daily. It was difficult to make the time but very very rewarding. This year we are doing the same and adding a meatless Friday to the mix. I feel that the focus of the discipline is not so much the what that you give up but the persistence with which you practice the discipline and the daily focus on praying for control over our weaknesses.

    1. Post

      That’s an excellent way of putting it. I focus so much on the deprivation that I forget that this is precisely about asking God to help us overcome our weaknesses.

  2. Let me tell you about the first time I actually “kept the fast” in earnest… meaning the dietary restrictions. I was a teenager, about 16 or 17, and in the Eastern Catholic Church, but at the very beginning of my journey to Orthodoxy. At that time in that church, keeping a “proper” fast was unheard of (I understand things are more Orthodox now)… we were taught that during Lent you didn’t eat meat on Fridays. For the truly pious, abstain on Wednesdays too (fasting every Wednesday and Friday was a faint memory only occasionally whispered.) Anyway, after Liturgy on Christmas Eve that year, I had bet my friend’s mom that I would keep a proper fast–no meat for the whole 40+ days!

    I saw it as a challenge, as something to prove, and a “bet” (there were no stakes) to win. And I did (probably–I may have cheated a little.) My teenage self succeeded… in becoming even more prideful than I already was. Did I add any prayer? No, not really. Can’t say I ever really prayed to begin with, so I only had one direction to go, but I’m pretty sure I went no where. It wasn’t *completely* devoid of merit… when I would choose the cheese pizza in the school cafeteria instead of the chicken sandwich, I would remember that I was allegedly doing it for God, and would at least think about Him briefly. But really all I did was trade a smidgeon of gluttony (I’m quite sure I still ate in excess, just without meat) for a larger dose of pride.

    I’m not a priest, just a lowly reader and terrible sinner with only the tiniest fragment of experience doing what one should do, but I have a lifetime of experience doing what one ought not do. I think Jeannie has the right idea. Don’t set the bar too low, but don’t set it completely out of reach either (just a little out of reach is good–but always discuss with your priest or spiritual father.) When I was first chrismated Orthodox in college, for several years I would eat cheese and eggs during the Great Fast–giving up bacon and beef was enough of a struggle. Of course I still wasn’t focused on what matters.

    I know it seems hard, but abstaining from food is actually so easy an arrogant 17 year old punk can do it, as do vegans and vegetarians. But I’ve been a member of the Orthodox Church for 12 years, and a Christian of the Eastern tradition for 22, and I still struggle to pray each day and to love my neighbor. I can’t seem to make time to read the scriptures each and every day–something for which I was given a command, a tonsure, and an ordination–let alone consistently see Lazarus at my front door.

    Lord, have mercy.

    Let your physical fast support and strengthen your spiritual fast–only then will going without food serve its purpose.

    1. Post

      Thanks very much for commenting. Fasting without pride is a struggle in itself, and one that I pray I will be able to fight this year with God’s help.

  3. I’ve been Orthodox now for about 6 years, and my wife for about 4. It’s still difficult, but I think every year gets a little easier to keep our minds focused to where they should be and use the fast to grow closer to Christ.

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      Thank you for commenting. I’m looking forward to Lent this year, and am glad so know many of you are walking with us on this journey. God bless your family this season.

  4. I used to be very strict with fasting. And I would feel some of the benefits… more peaceful and a lot more Jesus prayers. And then it started to lose the little value I received from it because I looked at fasting from certain foods as a rule and forget about the true purpose… to get closer to God.

    Its more about the closeness than anything else. Its about building the relationship with God and strengthening our walk with God so that when we do struggle He is the first person we go to.

    It’s also simply about eliminating the things that get in our way from getting closer to God. Now that I have a stronger relationship with God, I believe God cares more about what comes out of my mouth than what goes in it!

    I always say that fasting is a personal thing between you and God…. so ask Him! He will let you know.

    1. Post

      Excellent thoughts; thank you for commenting. Our priest spoke today about the upcoming fast and called it “a regimen, not a diet.” I’ll be working on seeing it that way.

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