We are now into the fast, so it’s the perfect time to troubleshoot a little and get some fasting tips.
So you’re fasting, but you feel… nothing. It doesn’t feel like anything has changed. You don’t feel any different. Whether it’s your first fast or 100th fast, we all get this feeling occasionally: “I’m fasting, but nothing’s different.”
Are you just going through the rhythms of the fast? If so, you need to create a disturbance. You need to shake things up. Here are five ways to refresh your fast. It’s never too late to start doing it right.
1. BIBLE STUDY WITH A FRIEND
Try a Bible study with a friend/spouse! Agree on a book in the Bible that you will both read and a schedule for reporting in to each other.
For example, each night for 15 min or less, discuss what happened in the chapter of the day. If your schedule doesn’t allow a daily check-in, plan a weekly phone call or Skype session. You could even agree to send each other a text of your reflections (or an e-mail if you’re the wordier types) as soon as you read the chapter as a way to hold each other accountable.
The Gospel of Luke is a perfect choice for the Nativity fast! It starts with the longest account of the Nativity story, and at 24 chapters, it’s long enough to carry you through the feast (with a several built-in days off)!
You can refer to Fr. Tadros Y. Malaty’s Bible study book (The Gospel of Luke PDF) when you want to meditate more on a particular verse or if a line is giving you trouble!
For Lent, try the Old Testament. I recommend the Prophecies of Isaiah (66 chapters – The Book of Isaiah PDF) or the Book of Job (42 chapters). Both are full of some of the most beautiful reflections on God and our relationship with Him.
2. PLAN YOUR CHARITY
A fast should go hand in hand with increased charity, and December is a month that makes it easy to give. But instead of just intending to be more charitable, plan it! If you’re anything like me, you don’t normally keep a lot of cash in hand. For the month of December–be prepared!
Withdraw a certain amount of cash and make a decision to give it all away in the course of the month. You could make a commitment to give money to every Salvation Army bell ringer you see. You could decide to give $5+ to every person you see begging on the side of the road or at red lights. You could also pick one or two online charities that you support and give a little extra this month. Personally, I recommend going the less cushy route and putting yourself out there in person with cash which is more likely to actually move your heart towards love.
You can also take part in service projects, but for the purposes of this blog, we’re looking to create a positive habit and not just a one-day holiday spike of goodness. The hope is that you continue being giving throughout the year.
AND don’t forget to be more charitable to the people in your life. Practice being kind to those around you.
3. INCREASE PRAYERS
It’s so important to increase your prayers during the fast, for a fast without increased prayers is just a diet. Praying and fasting always go hand in hand in scripture. They are pillars of changing the heart. If you truly want to be a different person, if you truly want to grow and change, then increasing prayers, increasing time before the Lord is not optional.
The easiest way to build more prayer into your life is to hitch the prayers onto habits that are already established. Start a prayer as you turn your key in the ignition of the car or each time you put your hand to a doorknob. Let a physical habit become a conscious trigger to speak to the Beloved until it becomes subconscious. I have a habit of praying fervently in thanksgiving each time I make a left turn left over from my early days of driving when left turns were a source of terror :D!
Need more convincing that increased prayer must go with your fast? Listen to this wonderful episode of Elissa Bjeletich’s podcast Raising Saints called The Devil’s Fast. Although it’s about Lent, its lessons apply to every fast.
4. ADD METANOIAS
While we’re on the subject of prayer, do you do metanoias? These prostrations are so valuable in changing our hearts as we move our bodies in worship at the throne. My father of confession highly recommends them, and I have found them to be so good for my soul.
I tried to find a resource online to explain metanoias, but I found none that fit our needs. (This is an excellent explanation of metanoias, but there is no demonstration, and also, small glitch, it’s in French.) A definition from an earlier post is “a deep prostration made as way of disciplining the body (discipline as in teach, not punish) and opening the mind/heart to God.”
For now, until I write and link to a follow up post, if you know how to do a metanoia, do three at the beginning of each day at the opening or closing of your morning prayers. Dedicate each one to a particular prayer. A simple combination would be (first metanoia) a prayer for one’s own sins, (second metanoia) a prayer for our families that they may be strengthened in their walk, and (third metanoia) a prayer for the peace of the world and the safety of those in turmoil.
[EXTRA CREDIT: Having trouble getting along with your priest or other church servants? Dedicate a metanoia to them to help God work in both of you for the peace and prosperity of your church family.]
5. READ A SPIRITUAL BOOK
You’ve increased your prayers, you’re reading your Bible, you’ve added metanoias, you’re practicing charity, but you’re still feeling a little tossed in the fast? Or maybe you can’t seem to summon the energy for one of these? Add a spiritual book to your holy fast. Read a little each night to help you grow in the faith and be strengthened in the fast.
Pope Shenouda III’s books have everything covered, and most are free in PDF form. I especially love his book Calmness. You may find encouragement in The Spirituality of Fasting or joy in learning about The Angels.
All that’s important is to pick one book, set it by your bed (or download/bookmark it on your device), and read a little each night. There’s no pressure to get through the book and no one looking over your shoulder to quiz you. Read until you hit a sentence that’s meaningful to you personally and meditate on it. Incorporate it into your life by first embedding it in your heart.
By incorporating some or all of these five tips into your fast, you will find that by the time the Feast arrives, you will be truly prepared for its blessings.
Remember that changes to your personal disciplines, to your spiritual canons, should be undertaken with the input of your father of confession.
One more thing before we close…
Are you suffering from food boredom? Are you eating about the same things each day? Good!
Last night, while taking a break from writing and rewriting this post, I watched an episode of MarieTV (the place to be…). I was stunned to find her talking about FASTING (in Western secular style).
At the end of the video, Marie said, “Limited choices in your day can lead to limitless freedom in your life.”
But the church fathers already knew this! It’s one of the reasons they fast!
When you know that from the time you wake until noon (or insert time of breaking fast of your discipline) you aren’t going to get up for water, pick something to nibble on, or figure out a breakfast to cook, you free up some mental effort to make a decision to PRAY or to LOVE.
When your lunch choices are a vegetable or a bean instead of an endless array of chicken and cheese laden salads or endless combinations of burger whatever, you free up mental reserves.
Don’t underestimate the power of the fast! Don’t wait until some fad diet pounds it into your head. God knows what He’s doing–He made you! If He says fasting changes hearts and can bring you closer to Him, you’d better believe He knows what He’s talking about.
Spiritual fasting is the ultimate detox.