Don’t Ruin Your Appetite: Fasting Through Lent

On Wednesdays and Fridays I am hungry, but it is on those days that I am closest to being satisfied.  On the Wednesdays and Fridays of Lent I fast, following the ancient Christian tradition of abstaining from all caloric foods and drinks twice weekly.  This was a tradition regained by the early Methodists with their efforts to reinvigorate Christianity as a practice—in choosing this twice weekly fast I am in good company.

There are of course a number of things I could have taken on to train toward Easter, but fasting seemed like the right one because it is both traditional and a form of practice that addresses so many of my weaknesses.  I am a person who craves—I long to read books I don’t have time for, I both want to be thin and lean and to eat a big meal of Mexican food topped off with an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s “American Dream Cone” ice cream.  These hungers are but signs for deeper hungers that I don’t want to address.

When trying to understand why I fasting I am reminded of Isaiah 55:1-2.  It is a passage in which the prophet takes on the role of a street vendor, yelling out advertisements for his produce:

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food. (NRSV)

Isaiah is offering good, fulfilling food and drink from God free of price, but all the while people are passing by in order to buy the shallow and passing junk food that will never satisfy—diet cokes and 100 calorie snack packs.

This scenario plays itself out in hundreds of ways every day in our lives.  Our consumerist economic systems feed off of this inability to find satisfaction—our self becomes a center of passing pleasures that give us just enough satisfaction to drive us to want more.

The truth is that the things that truly satisfy are not easy.  They require work and difficult choices, they require limits.  The long work of love, an enduring faith, the care of a child, even reading a good book requires a discipline of desire—the ability to direct our hungers toward the things that really satisfy.

I can drive down the road and feel hunger when I see the sign for a Frosty and fries from Wendy’s, but such a meal will leave me feeling sick and only hungry for more.  Instead I could go home and fix a meal of sweet potatoes, grassfed beef, and kale—a meal far more delicious and satisfying on every level.  But that meal is a more difficult one, a meal that my tastes must be trained to enjoy and on which I must wait as it is prepared.

It is the ability to wait for this better thing that fasting trains me toward.  Fasting is not about hunger it is about satisfaction and realizing that satisfaction requires waiting for the thing that will truly satisfy.  If you are thirsty, a Coke Zero won’t help you.  If you are hungry a bag of chips will leave you wanting.  If you are longing for connection a “like” on your Facebook post won’t help you.  You have to learn to wait through the hunger, wait for something real and true if you want to find satisfaction.  This is what fasting is about—I am waiting for the banquet God is preparing now to satisfy my every want.  As the wisdom of mothers’ goes, “Don’t ruin your appetite.”

 

About Ragan Sutterfield

Ragan Sutterfield is a writer and Episcopal seminarian sojourning from his native Arkansas in Alexandria, Virginia. He is the author of Cultivating Reality: How the Soil Might Save Us, Farming as a Spiritual Discipline and a contributor to the book Sacred Acts: How churches are working to protect the Earth’s climate. Ragan’s articles and essays have appeared in a variety of magazines including Triathlete, The Oxford American, and Books & Culture. He works to live the good life with his wife Emily and daughter Lillian.


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