Why I start the year with fasting (and maybe you should too)
It can be a dangerous thing for human beings to find themselves feeling powerful. The desire to change, the will to power, they are like drugs for the mind and the New Year always promises one big opiate hit. Don’t get me wrong. I am all for resolutions; for marshalling the self-discipline we so often lack. It is good to think about how your life should change. The problem is the belief that because it is a new year, I am somehow different or more powerful to overcome the myriad of reasons why I don’t do the things I don’t do; that I am suddenly stronger and more capable. A new year does afford us a kind of psychological fresh start, but we are not really more powerful, disciplined or capable than we were a week ago. In fact, we might be weaker. And so, I fast.
The moment I am aware of my need to change is also the moment when I most need God, because it is in these moments of self-reflection and even hope, that I see that I am mostly power-less to change my own life. I believe there is such a thing as sin, and where it has sunk its roots the deepest into the soil of my heart, soul and collective life, I am mostly a prisoner. And so, in those places I remember that I need a savior. Again. And, fortunately, it is in these places, the nexus between hope and need, that God does His best work. So I want to start my year, hoping. But also remembering that I am not the source of that hope. Believing, but remembering that I am not the source of that faith. And striving, but remembering, somehow that I am not the source of the power that is at work in me.
Fasting helps to do all that. I think food is always best, but really anything you will notice can be a bridge into the deepest and best place of prayer. That place where we are weaker and smaller, diminished in our own appraisal of ourselves and he is magnified. To let fasting take us to the place where we do not try to stand before God, but crumble. Where we do not try to say smart things but where we whimper the purest human prayer, “Help.”
I fast to trade godforsakenness for inadequateness. I fast so that I can become comfortable again with the paradox that 1) We are not alone, that God wants to love and know us and that is now possible AND 2) That we are helpless and inadequate for the tasks of life. These are the dual realities of prayer.
And yes, I fast to pray for those changes I most desire. But I do that while also reminding myself that he is my greatest desire. More than any discipline, I want to know and be known by him, to find him and be found in him.
I say no to my own body, denying its power to remember that my bravest prayer is for his power to be at work in me.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3)