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  • Writer's pictureScott Carr, Jr.

Fasting and Me

Author Richard Foster explains the purpose of fasting in this way: “More than any other Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us.” [1] His words certainly explain my limited experience with fasting. My fasts have exclusively occurred during the season of Lent, which I have taken part in over the past three years.

During my first two Lents, I performed a social media fast, which Foster does not discuss in his chapter on fasting, yet I found it to be an essential part of my spiritual development. At the time, the majority of my social media use was Facebook and so I signed out of my account for forty days. During that time, I learned a great deal about myself. I had not previously recognized how much time I spent on Facebook, being unproductive. I began to notice the way comparing myself to others on social media led to feelings of anxiety and depression. I also learned how self-focused I could be. The Lenten fast provided me with an opportunity to pay more careful attention to people around me rather than to myself.

Richard Foster’s statements about fasting applied equally well to media fasts: “Devote the time you would normally use eating to meditation and prayer.” [2] Fasting from Facebook freed enough time to not only be more productive in my college studies, but also allowed me to devote a half hour to prayer in the evenings before bed. At first, to spend that length of time focused exclusively on prayer was a challenge. How did I have that much to say to God? Not to mention, social media use surely contributed to shortening my attention span. Yet as the Lenten season progressed, I found the fast allowed me to turn from myself and focus on the world around me, which contained considerable material for prayer. By the end of Lent, a half hour did not seem to be enough time to pray! At the end of my first Lent, I did not maintain these habits of prayer, and so found the second year had the same challenges. After my second Lent, I did continue to devote that evening time to prayer. I also noticed after both Lenten fasts, once I had returned to Facebook, I at first did not spend as much time logged in, nor did I find myself being drawn back into the tendency to compare myself to the social media versions of my friends and the self-focus brought on by such comparisons, at least at first. A year provides considerable time in which Lenten habits can be undone and the following year another social media fast is required.

For this past Lent, I was unable to engage in my traditional media fast. The requirements of raising my own support necessitated I utilize Facebook. Instead, I opted to take part in a food fast. Having never fasted with food before, I was not sure how to begin. I thought the best way to start was to reduce my eating habits to meal times and give up snacking throughout the day. Such a fast forced me to be more intentional in what I ate at meal times and allowed me to grow more grateful for the food provided in those meals. In the evening, which is a prime snack-time for me, I decided to add a discipline in place of snacking. Since I already set aside time for pray in the evening, I opted to instead spend a half hour meditating on artistic depictions of Christ’s passion. I would turn on a classical work such as Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion or St. John’s Passion, Mendelssohn’s Christus, and Penderecki’s St. Luke’s Passion. While these works of music played in the background, I would ponder paintings of the crucifixion.

While I gained much from these times of meditation, I am dissatisfied with the fast I practiced this Lent. At first, fasting between meals seemed to be a good first step into food-based-fasting, yet as the season went on, I realized it became a way of not fully committing to fasting. At first, it was a challenge, but after a week or so, it ceased to be a true sacrifice. I could still end my days filled. I am not sure when I will attempt another food fast, but I do know I need to commit to making deeper sacrifices during my fast. As for next Lent, I believe I will attempt to return to a social media fast, as that is something I need to regularly engage in for my spiritual growth.

[1] Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline, p. 55

[2] Ibid. p. 57

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