For several years, I was involved in an unhealthy relationship with a girl that I almost married. Once, not long after I started college, I began to experiment with fasting. At the root of this was my own self-loathing; I ate too much, and saw the best solution as not eating at all. However, I was also deeply psychologically tied to this girl. Once, in a conversation about fasting, she told me, "I don't think you should do it; you are doing it for the wrong reasons." This simple declaration has haunted me since she said it.
"I am giving up chocolate for Lent, because I believe in God."
"I am listening to only Christian music instead of secular music during Lent, because I want to be close to Jesus."
"I am giving up television."
The laundry list of New-Year's-resolution-style fasting commitments goes on and on.
So I've been doing some thinking, and I keep coming back to that same question that my ex-girlfriend provoked me to ask of myself almost five years ago:
What is the "right reason" to fast?
Fasting reminds us that one of the greatest fruits of the Spirit—self-control—is the fruit that is not eaten.
I have seen this illustrated in the life and teachings of the Mahatma Gandhi. In his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Gandhi writes at length about the relationship between food and the spiritual life, and confesses his own struggles with indulgence. He writes:
I recently learned that the word "prodigal" is a synonym for indulgence. When we refer to someone as prodigal today, we usually mean it with the connotation that the person has been gone for a while and has returned; this is, after all, the plot of Jesus's famous parable. But prodigality—excessiveness—was the sin of the younger son and the primary motivator in the story plot. The great humility of the son that prompted him to return home resulted from his own "forced fasting," which was a consequence of his extravagant living. Why do we not remember this?
I now begin my own little "experiment with truth." And I am able to do so with a freed conscience.