You hear it all the time. “Fasting isn’t about reading the labels,” or “If you’re going to spend so much time worrying about what day it is on the calendar, you’re fasting incorrectly.” What if I told you that fasting IS about reading labels, and searching the calendar? What if I told you that fasting IS about spending time searching cookbooks for recipes that do not include all the foods you’re not allowed to eat?
In the Didache (The Teachings of the Apostles to the Nations) which dates to approximately 70 AD, we learn the formula for the Christian life. “There are two ways, one of life and one of death.” These are the opening words leading to a series of paragraphs outlining which sins to avoid and which good things to do. Maneuvering through life trying to remember which sins to avoid requires a certain level of vigilance, and that is where fasting comes in.
When you fast, you are no simply denying yourself things you love. You may not even care about eating but fasting requires discipline and vigilance. When you must be constantly aware of what food is in your hands, or what day it is on the calendar, you learn to be aware of your surroundings. When you learn to take a few moments to search an ingredient list, you learn to think about consequences before you act.
Fasting not only teaches what to avoid, it teaches how to repent. Once you’ve eaten “the wrong food” you can’t uneat it, but you can stop from eating it again. Once you’ve walked out of that hamburger joint and realized it was Wednesday, you can’t go back in time, but you can remember not to go back for dinner.
Repentance is crucial for our Christian life, and our Great Lenten Journey is our training ground. Chances are you have “fallen” once or twice or more during Great Lent, but I pray you got back on that fasting horse and started fresh. That’s repentance, and it will help you recover from whichever sin you are struggling against. Instead of throwing up your arms and giving up, realize where you lost track of the sin, and learn from your mistake. Go to confession. Pray. Read the Scriptures. Go ahead and read the Didache. It’s like reading the recipe and ingredients list for the Christian life. If you’ve learned how to fast, then you’ve learned how not to sin.