I say this as someone who’s very good at self-will and saying ‘no’. But I’m learning there’s a world of difference between fasting for the Lord and fasting for yourself.
Both look religious, but are centered round very different gods. One is Jesus. One is me. If you’re not convinced, then here are the ‘creeds’ of anorexia.
I believe in Control, the only force mighty enough to bring order to the chaos that is my world.
I believe that I am the most vile, worthless and useless person ever to have existed on this planet, and that I am totally unworthy of anyone’s time and attention.
I believe that other people who tell me differently must be idiots. If they could see how I really am, then they would hate me almost as much as I do.
I believe in oughts, musts and shoulds as unbreakable laws to determine my daily behaviour.
I believe in perfection and strive to attain it.
I believe in salvation through trying just a bit harder than I did yesterday.
I believe in calorie counters as the inspired word of god, and memorise them accordingly.
I believe in bathroom scales as an indicator of my daily successes and failures
I believe in hell, because I sometimes think that I’m living in it.
I believe in a wholly black and white world, the losing of weight, recrimination for sins, the abnegation of the body and a life ever fasting.
I’d like to tell you that I’ve made these up. But I haven’t. They’re part of a body of ‘thinspiration’ that is circulated in pro-anorexia communities – where sufferers cheer each other on to stay strong and lose weight. As you can see, they’re religious. But they’re fasting that leads to death and emptiness; not fasting that culminates in feasting and life.
Shrove Tuesday is also known as ‘Mardi Gras’ – literally ‘Fat Tuesday’: a reference to using up rich food before Lent. From this time to Easter we remember Jesus being tempted in the wilderness – but it’s actually 46 days instead of 40. That’s because the six Sundays are actually feast days; a reminder of God’s provision and goodness. Fasting in Bible times was a communal activity and not a private one – the aim in fasting was always to come back together in the feast at the end. This feast is for those who are needy; and the bread and wine is Christ Himself.
When I fast for myself however, it’s a solitary activity. I pull away from food and away from relationship. I never break my fast to feast because I can’t – won’t – receive; from God or others. Literally (as my body consumes its own organs) and metaphorically, I feed on myself. But even as I eat, I’m starving to death. Fasting for myself is about my will, my desires, my independence. I will not receive and I will not be ruled. I will never be good enough. I must try harder. And I carry my failure on myself.
Fasting for God is submitting my desires to Him; a declaration of dependence and a recognition that every part of me is His – and in Him I’m part of a larger body. I am not good enough; but trying harder isn’t the answer. I cannot carry my failures. But at the Lord’s table I receive much more than food. I receive the grace and forgiveness I can never earn.
For many folks, fasting can be a valuable spiritual discipline. For others, like me, feasting for God is more appropriate. If you have a history of restricting it’s not something I’d encourage. But whatever your background, it’s worth considering, not just what you’re giving up – but why you’re doing it. True fasting is about dependence and community, not independence and self-will. It’s done for the Lord and in His strength, not by and for myself. And the end of the fast is always a feast.