Lent is upon us, and the time has come for making some sacrifices. For many of us who grew up in a strongly evangelical environment, Lent can be somewhat foreign. But as many people return to the ancient practices of Christianity, liturgical practices like Lent are becoming more common.
One way to dive into Lent is an all-out fast. In our consumer society where fast food commercials try to convince us to instantly satisfy our every craving, a fast is a countercultural statement. Add to that the fact that it’s a rich and biblical part of Christian tradition. If you want to undertake a fast, but never have before, here are a few tips to help you succeed.
Set an Attainable Time Goal
A couple years ago I decided to write an article for the magazine about fasting. My best friend and I planned to document our journey as we fasted from all food for 40 days. We both made it about 20, and were probably on the verge of resorting to cannibalism by that point. If you’ve never done an extended fast before, it may not be the best idea to start with one. Think about doing a sundown to sundown fast (that’s the format of most biblical fasts). If you set an unrealistic timetable, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Remember to Pray
This sounds simple, but it’s amazing how sidetracked you can become when you’re thinking about your stomach. The whole point of fasting is to focus on prayer. You’re not engaging in a starvation diet. Every time you start obsessing about food or how hungry you are, pray. When a Subway commercial comes on TV and you start wishing for physical tragedy to befall Jared Fogle, pray.
Ask for Support
While Jesus tells us not to go around bragging about our fasting, there’s nothing wrong with asking a couple friends to hold you accountable and pray for you. Hopefully, they’ll also be kind enough not to eat massive amounts of food in front of you. If not, perhaps it’s time to find new friends.
Don’t Tempt Yourself Unreasonably
You don’t want to isolate yourself while fasting, but it’s important to be smart about what situations you put yourself in. For instance, in the midst of my fast I went to my favorite barbecue restaurant with a group of friends and watched them eat. One of them tried to convince me that if I drank baked beans they counted as a beverage. It almost made sense. Stay away from situations that are going to put unreasonable strain on your fortitude.
Drink a Lot
Chugging a lot of water will make the hunger pangs less severe. Also, going without food for a while can make you extremely lethargic. Water will boost your energy. You may also want to think about drinking juice. It will keep your blood sugar from plummeting too much. Stay away, however, from caffeine and alcohol. Without food in your stomach as a buffer, caffeine will have you bouncing off the walls and alcohol will probably put you in a coma.
Listen to Your Body
If you’re doing an extended fast, pay attention to the signals your body is giving you. For the first three or four days, you’ll probably feel hungry because your body has been conditioned to eat at certain times. After this, the hunger typically goes away. When actual physical hunger returns, it’s time to eat again. That’s your body warning you that if you don’t give it food soon, it will digest any part of itself it can get its hands on.
Fasting is tough. There’s no way around that. But it can be an incredible learning experience. During my fast, I realized how much of my life was centered around immediate gratification. If you do decide to embark on the journey of fasting, be prepared to learn some hard lessons. It’s a difficult task, but an incredibly rewarding one.