What Is Sucking The Life Out Of You? (thinking about fasting differently)

What are the things in your life that are sucking the life out of you?

What are the things that are draining and leaving you feeling empty?

The other day I listed the practice of “fasting” as one of the keys to living a more radical Christian life. I don’t know about you, but fasting wasn’t a practice I was taught growing up. As an adult, I began to see fasting exclusively in terms of food and could never figure out why this would be a helpful spiritual practice. I tried it many times over, and often found fasting from food or certain types of foods as being challenging– but not always life-giving. While I will still occasionally work unhealthy food items into a fast (especially my vice of drinking soda), I began to see fasting differently a few years ago. Fasting too often becomes a practice of withholding good things from yourself (such as not eating food) instead of a practice to eliminate the unhealthy things from your life. The former can be a good challenge in self discipline, but the latter is an approach to fasting that pours life into you.

I believe that spiritual practices are designed to build us up, something I believe even Jesus affirms. During his ministry, one of the rubs between he and the conservative religious leaders were over observing the Sabbath. The religious leaders had developed a ton of oral rules about what could and could not be done on the Sabbath, and Jesus didn’t adhere to those oral traditions very well. In response to their push back, Jesus reminded them that the “Sabbath was created for man, not man for the Sabbath”. Simply put: observing a day of rest was supposed to be something that was life-giving not life-draining. As is often the case, the practice had become life-draining because of all of the additional rules religious leaders attached to the practice.

I think in many ways, our concept of fasting can become twisted in this same way. We end up fasting in such a way that it becomes life-draining as if we were created for the fast instead of the fast being created for us.

Three years ago, I didn’t give fasting a second thought because my concept of it was something life-sucking instead of life-giving. Today however, I see fasting much differently and have actually grown to love fasting.

Today I see fasting as an opportunity to eliminate things from my life that are taking life from me, zapping me, draining me, or detracting from the person I want to be. I see fasting as an opportunity to pour into my life by eliminating things that are unnecessarily taking from my life.

On March 5th, the Church calendar will enter the season of Lent as we make our way to Easter. As part of Christian tradition, many believers fast for this period of time– a tradition I have grown to embrace. This year, my hope is that you will join in with me– but that you’ll look at fasting differently. Instead of simply food, the question becomes: what is sucking the life out of you?

Make a list of those life-draining items, and pick some that you’re going to take a fast from. Taking a break from some of these activities or practices will become something that will pour life into you simply by eliminating something that is unnecessarily taking life away. You might even find that with your increased energy and your better mood, that you start adding things into your life that fill the gap in a more positive way.

For me, I’ll be spending less time with my face buried in my phone and less time watching television, in favor of more time reading, and spending more quality time with my family.

That, I believe, is the kind of fasting that pours life into us.

If you’ve never considered fasting, or if fasting has never been a “positive” exercise for you, I want to encourage you to re-think how you see fasting. My hope is that you’ll grow to see it as an opportunity to prune out areas of your life that are detracting from who you are and who you want to be. Fasting becomes a season of renewal and a period of reclaiming your life– and what better time to do that than the onset of spring?

If you’re joining me in fasting for Lent, what life draining activities will you be fasting from?

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • LC

    Taking the challenge! I am turning my New Year’s resolution, eliminating unhealthy, draining relationships from my life and making space for healthy ones, into a fast for Lent. I could never fast either. Now I know why.

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    That’s a great thing to fast from!

  • gimpi1

    The most life-draining habit I have is burying myself in media – TV, internet, books, whatever, and ignoring the people around me. I tend to be a bit solitary by nature, and hiding from the “complications” of other people is a bad habit that I think is growing worse. My husband has the same tendency, so we can reinforce each other, each tucking up in our own corner with our laptops or devices.

    I resolve to cut back my computer time. (I can’t cut it out, since computer work is how I earn my living), cut back on reading and cut out TV altogether unless it’s social – such as an evening with friends watching a movie. My inner hermit needs to be drug out of her shell for a bit. I resolve to re-connect with the rest of the human race.

  • Tlynn

    Responding negative religious articles and negative comments via the Internet are my Lenten give ups, along with meatless Fridays. Somethings are just part of tradition.

  • mona

    Fasting from FaceBook…. how will I ever get by without knowing what my friends are having for dinner????

  • Heather McCuen Dearmon

    I like this viewpoint on fasting a lot, however I would have to be sure it was the Father telling/leading me about which thing/s to give up. I’ve tried before, but w/out His guidance my efforts were in vain.
    Would love to know your viewpoint on people fasting for prayers to be answered or for healing. I had friends who fasted a month for my healing, but it never came. I felt so bad for them! All of that sacrifice and no results. So I question if that kind of fasting is even valid?

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    Yes, you definitely want it to be something that the spirit is telling you to give up– this is where listening to the spirit is important. Sometimes there are things we need to prune from our lives, and his list isn’t exactly our list, so that’s really good insight.

    As someone who’s moderately charismatic, I definitely believe in divine healing, but I don’t fully understand any connection between healing and fasting, though I know there’s some biblical connections to this. Perhaps in this area it’s not so much about fasting as it is prayer– fasting should always lead to more prayer.

    The question becomes “why does God heal some and not others?” A question I’ve asked myself about my daughter, or my chronic pain, but simply don’t have an answer for. No one does, really. But, I would think all fasting done with the right heart and with godly motivations would be “valid” because I believe that God sees the heart and the motivation.

  • http://www.geocolas.be/Georges George Staelens

    The early Christians fasted only two days a year, but they didn’t go to war, and arguably enough, a lot of them were vegetarian.

    After the marriage between the Empire and the Church, the Church tried to refrain war and animal killing: so, all the Wednesdays and Fridays of the year, and the whole period of Lent + Passion week + ember days + Advent (which makes +/- half of the year), the Christians ate vegan and made no war. Animal killing and human killing were linked!

    If you proclaim yourself to be a pacifist, and/or a pro-lifer, and you still eat animals’ flesh, it’s not ok. At least during Lent, you should eat vegan. Ask the Eastern Christians, and they will tell you.

    Giving up Facebook on Lent is not enough. If you eat vegan, that’s life-giving (or rather life-allowing). Be radical!

  • eric kurfman

    Excellent. The thought were we “created for the fast instead of the fast being created for us” really nails it.

    In my own experience of 4-5 years of extended fasts in the 90’s, I eventually found my self angry with God. At the time I didn’t realize it, but it became “see how serious I am God, you HAVE TO answer my prayer now”. Now I know I was trying to twist God’s arm. I wasn’t able to fast for 10+ years after that experience.

    I think the narrative in Mark 9 that includes the verse “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting” is where we get the idea that fasting makes for REALLY serious prayer. As I read this post I realized that Jesus simply meant by getting rid of the distractions, i.e. the things sucking the life out of me, I would be more likely to know what the Lord is “saying” in a situation. That still small voice that would guide me if I wasn’t so distracted.

    I have told people before, Jesus didn’t even pray in the Mark 9 passage. He surely didn’t have time to fast! He had already done his praying and fasting, and that is why he knew what to do …and now after reading this I am more convinced than ever.

    Tlynn’s idea of fasting the negative may be the ticket for me this year. That sucks the life out of me like nothing else.

  • http://ellenpainterdollar.com/ Ellen Painter Dollar

    I’m going to fast from participating in online comments (so I have to comment here quick, before Lent!). I’m going to give myself an “out” for responding to comments on my own writing or responding to fact-finding questions directed at me or to groups that I’m a part of. But I find that I spend too much time not only commenting on other people’s writing and Facebook posts (which is, in part, my trying to be in solidarity with other writers and knowing how much positive comments can boost our spirits), but also getting wrapped up in how other people respond to what I say. By not commenting, I think I’ll not only find more time to write, but will also see how much I’m looking for ego boosts from my online participation.

  • Jennifer Maxwell Olsen

    I actually AM going to be giving up food, altho not because of the tradition, but rather because my relationship with food is unhealthy. My plan at the moment is veggies are always fine, fish is generally fine (assuming it’s prepared reasonably healthy) and beyond that I’m sticking to healthy smoothies/purees, yogurt (no added sugar), soups, and absolutely no junk food. I turn to food for comfort WAY too much, but I also get seriously grumpy if I don’t eat regularly. (and I have little kids so that’s not good for them, either) I’m hoping that fasting basically from solid foods and unhealthy crap I don’t need, I’ll be able to kick that habit and take better care of God’s Temple. I already buy “pouch” style apple sauce and other fruit/veggie purees for my kids to snack on so are super convenient, so I figure toss in some fish for protein, fresh veggies if I’m craving a crunch, and that should be plenty to sustain me and keep me from getting distracted by worshiping my food rather than the One that gave it to me.

  • Lily

    I always felt guilty because I could never fast from food. It was pounded into my head that fasting made you a good chrisitan. But I came across the words of Jesus when he was being criticized because he and his disciples didn´t fast. And he answered that one couldn´t fast while the ‘groom’ was with them. I understand this as, you can´t fast when you are in a ´party´. or when you are happy. I am happy, I feel free and enjoy every moment of my life. I can´t stop eating just because someone says it´ll make my life more spiritual. So, I no longer feel guilty because I don´t feel the need to do it. I enjoy my healthy meals, I thank God for each one them and pray for those who are in need of food. My lent is to stop feeling guilty over things I shouldn´t.

  • Lisa Martinez

    Benjamin…I too have gone from not appreciating fasting to appreciating it. But, what are your thoughts about talking about what you’re fasting from? I’m not pointing fingers at you or anyone else, it’s just that when it comes to this time of year, relating with an Anglican community, I really can’t stand to hear the fast-bragging: everyone talking about it and asking others what they’re doing. It just seems of what Jesus mentioned when he was talking about fasting. My hubby fasts regularly but almost is too secretive of it ;) just wondering about your thoughts on this.

  • Jill Roper

    It’s interesting Ben the amount of comments you got from this post and comparing it to other posts. I have given this a great deal of thought. The particular tribe I worship with doesn’t participate in lent but some very good friends who are Lutheran do. It has fascinated me for some years now. When I first read your post I thought, “I don’t have anything that sucks the life out of me that I can tell”. So I prayed about it and have come up with facebook. I try to spend little time on there but my business is impacted by facebook. I spend too much time reading all my “friends posts”. The morning I spent more time reading the posts on fb. and my Bible was right next to me and more time was spent on fb I realized what I should give up for Lent. So facebook it is. I did it for the 6 weeks I was in Haiti, over course ALL media was absent in Haiti and I found it to be quite freeing. I will have to find out when it starts and stops. Blessings to you Ben.
    Your covered sister