The Different Types of Fasts
- Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Editor's Note: Lent begins Wednesday, February 17th. To prepare for Lent and better understand ways to practice the ancient spiritual discipline of fasting, read the following excerpt from Dr. Peter Holme's new book The Fasting Journey (Authentic Publishing, 2009). For other resources on Lent and fasting, see the list of related articles at the end of this excerpt.
Deciding what to abstain from is one of the choices you must make when preparing to fast. The other is about the type of fast you will undertake. Will you be fasting privately or with a group? For how long will you fast? Most of my fasts are private, extended water-only fasts. This is the most demanding type of fast and is therefore likely to be the most effective. However, it will take most people quite some time to work up to this; and many will never take on this type of fast. In this chapter we will look at the various types of fasts you can undertake.
Occasional Short Fasts
This is where most people start. Whether denying yourself food or some other pleasure, an occasional fast that lasts six, twelve, or twenty-four hours is the most manageable. Nevertheless, you must treat it with the same sincerity as a longer fast. It is not insignificant just because it is short. But it does allow you to move gently into the discipline and to let the Lord instruct you. You are not necessarily making a commitment to do this type of fast again, as it is a one-time fast for a specific purpose.
Once you have decided what you are abstaining from you will be able to plan accordingly. If you are fasting from chocolate, then plan ahead so there is no chocolate in the house. Giving it away may be sacrifice enough! If you are abstaining from TV, then pull the plug out of the wall and put a cloth over the screen. You must get serious, even if only for a brief, occasional fast.
If you are doing a short water-only fast, don't presume that it will be easy. Some people are shocked when they first abstain from food. Your blood sugar level may drop and your instinct will be to rush for a chocolate bar. But then you will remember that you are supposed to be fasting, though I have known people who have impulsively eaten before realizing what they were doing. Such an outcome can be discouraging; but do not despair; things will change once you get into the rhythm of fasting. Another temptation is to binge during the meal before or after a fast. Both are equally unacceptable!
This is normally a regular act of abstinence, for example one day a week. You may abstain from food, or make some other sacrifice. This type of fast is a way of integrating the spiritual discipline of fasting into your life on an ongoing basis.
Some people might contend they are on an intermittent fast, perhaps abstaining one day a week from high-caffeine drinks, while knowing that in fact they really need to stop drinking so many of these beverages every day. Where is the pain or gain in abstaining for just one day a week? Others exercise instead of eating lunch, but thoroughly enjoy it. So where is the abstinence?
If a person is addicted to buying romance novels or music CDs, then to "fast" for one week every month might be a real jolt. Likewise, if you max out a bunch of credit cards on designer clothing, then you need to stop what you're doing—not just "fast." Be wise in your choice of what to abstain from, and be honest. An intermittent fast will be just as sacrificial as any other type, if you have chosen wisely.
I used to fast one meal every day: I would eat a good breakfast, then eat only fruit for lunch, then eat again in the evening. I did this for several years while in college. Another option is to follow the Catholic tradition of eating a reduced diet one day a week as a way of fasting. Some churches have a regular monthly day of prayer and fasting.
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