Why Fasting Matters for Us During Lent

During this wonderful season of Lent, many of us turn our attention to the discipline of fasting. Similar to making New Year’s resolutions, many of us decide to give something up for Lent. As a child, I remember wondering why we were called to refrain from meat, candy, or whatever during the 40 days before Easter.

I knew that there was some relationship to Jesus’s sacrifice of his own life for us. I remember the story of Jesus in the garden asking his disciples, “Could you not stay awake even for one hour to pray with me?” I often felt guilty for cheating on my Lenten intentions…

Today, Lenten disciplines cause an unbelievable amount of gratitude in me. It was five years ago that I decided to complete Fr. Gaitley’s preparation for Consecration to Divine Mercy. I have shared before that I did not enter this self-directed retreat with any hope of being released from my addiction to pornography and masturbation. I had already concluded that I was innately flawed, and would never be freed. I simply thought that this would be a good discipline for Lent. Of course, God had other plans for my healing.

Seeking to Satisfy Our Hunger

An article that I recently read mentioned that “fasting breaks our ordinary practices and behaviors to open ourselves to the extraordinary experience of God’s presence.” The life-changing concept that I embraced through my Consecration to Divine Mercy was that all sin finds its origin in the fact that we don’t trust in God’s love for us—that we don’t believe He is powerful enough to lift us from our cesspool of sin. Fasting can help us remember to trust in God.

Following Jesus’s baptism, he was led into the desert where he fasted and prayed for 40 days. At the end of these 40 days, he was tempted by the Devil. The Devil said to him, “If you are the Son, command the rocks to become bread.” And Jesus responded, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Jesus modeled for us what we need to do with our hunger for physical satisfaction. We need to bring our needs before our loving Father, and trust in His ability to provide for our every need.

As addicts, our desires, which we experience as “needs,” are disordered. We come to the desperate realization that we can’t satisfy our hunger in Step One through our addictions. This is a painful place. However, when we open ourselves up to God’s palpable presence in our emptiness, we experience the joy of the cross! Until we can bring our emptiness to the Lord, though, we will never have our hunger satisfied.

The Value of Fasting

This is the value of fasting since it reminds us that nothing outside of God can actually satisfy our hunger. When fasting turns our focus to our loving Lord, then it has prepared the soil of our hearts for God’s seeds of love and mercy. 

During my Exodus 90 experience earlier this year, each of us fasted every Friday, eating only one full meatless meal. Throughout the week, we also avoided snacking in between meals, sweets, soda, and alcohol with the exception of Sundays.

That was the most intense fasting discipline I have practiced in my life. If I wasn’t doing this with five other men from my parish, I don’t think I would have done as well as I did. Initially, we would slip up, either through oversight or moments of weakness. 

But as it became more of a weekly practice, it became easier. As my success progressed, I found myself feeling a bit pride-filled and therefore started combining it with silent prayer. This is when I really began to experience the dividends of fasting combined with prayer.

Keeping Our Eyes on Jesus

My conscious awareness of God’s presence became more heightened. Instead of spending the silent prayer thinking about how I was falling short, I began to hear scripture passages come to mind that would encourage me, direct me, instruct me, and affirm me.

Through the discipline of fasting, I was more able to keep my eyes on Jesus rather than on myself. This is because through fasting I was made aware of a hunger that only God can satisfy. By fasting from television during Exodus 90, I freed time up to complete a daily examination of conscience, for example. And keeping my eyes on our Lord allowed me to live in hope and joy.

Thinking about fasting has also opened my eyes to the nature of the Devil. When we begin to clear space and make room in our lives for God, the Devil looks for an opening to lead us away from Him. The Devil tried to entice Jesus with physical pleasures, power, and prestige. He did the same with Adam and Eve at the beginning of time. And he tries to do the same with us today.

Yet, when we intentionally fast in communion with God we become free from fear, aware of our need for God, and filled with gratitude. Further, when we share our struggles with our fellow brothers and sisters, we limit the Devil’s power over us. We are reminded that God has promised that He is with us always. And the sacrifice that comes with our fasting points to the victory of the cross over the Devil and all sin!

 

Jim Gorski is a 57-year-old father of four children who has been married to the same woman for 35 years. He completed his master’s degree in social work in 1984 and has directed church music groups for the past 41 years. He remains a grateful child of the most high God and strives to trust in God’s loving mercy and His ability to provide for Jim’s every need.