Basic rule: you need pain for pleasure.
Clarification: this pain is not the nasty pain of a broken world, but learning pains, the sort you must have for paradise to be heavenly.
I know this truth from Thanksgiving. We are apt to have a yummy breakfast and tasty snacks continuously so that when we get to the great feast, nobody is hungry. This is a mistake! Whetting the edge of appetite sharpens the pleasure of eating. We hold off on that small treat so we can enjoy the Feast.
There is more to a Fast, of course, then just a bit of self-denial, growing pains, that will help with Christmas jollification. Today the prayer application (thank you Greek Archdiocese for making the ancient modern by putting my readings on my iPhone) reminded me that it included alms-giving. We give to others, because it is the right thing to do.
Ethical duties exist to nudge us to do things when they are harder to do. Obvious pleasures do not require much of a nudge, but grownup joys, the kind that being in growing pains, are not quick picks. Our heads say it is more blessed to give than to receive, but we wait for others to get that blessing! Giving, real alms, is losing . . . generally giving something we would be happy to get.
Give unto others as you would have someone give unto you.
Don’t be the person who when Hope and I were hungry decided to gift us with all the odd canned goods they had left. Some appeared to be World War II vintage (more or less) and there was a large assortment of unopened cranberry sauces from the Ghost of Thanksgiving Past. We were happy to get any calories, but it was more than a Chopped challenge to make something edible. Since then, we have tried to give items that we would wish to eat or that we would wish to receive if the recipient. They might have special dietary needs, after all!Often I have discovered that generous people never receive gifts! They do not “need” the item, but a gift is enjoyable even when it is just a surprise that says: “You came to mind today and I wanted to bless you!” Almsgiving should be directed toward those who are needy, but gift giving is bigger. There are needy people who have money, the needs are just different. Sometimes a gift is a way of saying “thank you” or “we like you” and is in a language that the person can appreciate. The meal sent in this case is not keeping the family from starvation, but is a treat. God delights in giving us treats and we should not be afraid to send treats to others!
Feed the poor of all sorts.
Will this giving make us happy? Yes, though not quite in the way that feasting does. We are cleansed by fasting, made sharper, and I have found that giving also sheds material weight. Losing the weight of things that so easily clutter us up is good for our hearts.
My prayers also pointed out that fundamentally my joy comes from God: an eternal source of endless love. God often uses things, even cranberry sauce, to convey love to His people, even our enemies, but fundamentally is the ground of being. We come back to God in a fast, because our prayer time increases with our almsgiving. We turn from a focus on feasting our bodies (so hard for me!) to feasting our souls. This is good and beautiful, but not immediately. The latte we lose is a bit painful and the joys of study, prayer, and meditation are less sugary and more solid.
Let us fast, in whatever manner we fast, and then keep the Feast. Christmas is coming!