Why Do We Fast?

Why Do We Fast?


It’s what weighs on a mother’s heart, nurturing the spiritual lives of her children. And times like these, days when we’re fasting, the burden of care grows heavy. It’s the longing that our children will embrace this life of repentance fully. I always find myself praying for the simple things – not so much that they’ll do it right, just the hope that they’ll come to understand the purpose of it all.

Like the conversation I had when a young child of mine asked, “Why do we fast?”

My children live in an Orthodox family, but they also live in the world. They see the way we eat, how it makes us different from others. And this little one of mine wanted to understand why.

It was the best question she could have asked.

That’s because the answer you embrace reveals your understanding of God. It sheds light on how you think He loves, how you think He works, how He heals. Ask someone why we fast and their answer will shed light on their relationship with God. Some will tell you it’s about offering reparation for our sins, others that it’s the way we receive answers to our prayers. I’ve heard some say it’s a matter of offering public witness, while others, they say it’s a form of exercising the will – a struggle aimed at gaining self-control. And there are some who say it’s no matter at all. They’re the ones who dismiss it as no longer relevant or say that it never was.

Why do we fast?

It’s the best question my little girl could’ve asked, because the answer she comes to embrace will affect a relationship, the one this fasting is meant to build.

The question of eating spiritually always reminds me of the words of Elder Paisios. They’re the words that came to mind when she posed her question to me.

“I have realized that the destruction of man lies in the abundance of material goods, because it prevents him from experiencing the presence of God and appreciating His benevolence. If you want to take someone away from God, give him plenty of material goods. He will instantly forget Him forever.”

I shared these words with her on that day she asked her question. I told her how fasting isn’t just a rule we keep, but the way we reveal something we’re likely to forget.

It’s the easiest thing to forget, especially when your belly’s filled with heavy food – that we need God and we’re barren without Him.
It’s the presumption that we’re self-sufficient, the disease of relying on our own strength. Those who don’t curb their desires for more and more, they’re the ones who most quickly forget that it’s God who’s our helper. Those of us with all this abundance, even children, forget our need for Him.

We eat to live and there’s no getting around it. And in our hunger, He reveals our weakness. We come to see ourselves for who we really are. That lack of food, even the lack of its richness and variety, slowly pulls back the layers. All the securities and comforts we’ve built around our hearts, it’s the hunger pain that reveals the weakness, the recognition of our need.

God doesn’t need our fasts. That’s what I tell my children when they ask. What we put in our mouths and into our bellies doesn’t affect the way He feels about us. It doesn’t change His love for us.

God doesn’t need us to fast. We do.

We’re the ones in need of healing and we’re healed by His mercy. But first we have to recognize our need, so that we can offer our hearts to Him.

Some wonder if the fasts are important for children. Seems to me what really matters is that they’re growing up reminded that they need a Helper. So, when she asked me why we fast I answered her simply. We fast because we need to remember that we need God.
That’s when the real relationship begins. The moment when you know it – how you just can’t live without Him.

Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network.  You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+.

About author

Katherine Johnson

My name is Katherine and I never go by Kathy, but you can call me Mary. That's my church name. Either way, you see, I'm one of those converts to Orthodoxy who finds herself called by two names. I like to think of it as binomial nomenclature, Byzantine style.

A little confusion is a small price to pay for such an amazing Faith.

And me? Well, after graduating from university, I turned down an opportunity to study law. Decided that a family suited me just fine. My husband, Doug, and I are blessed with seven children, infant to teen.

I specialize in finding God in the most unexpected places, like the kitchen sink or the laundry room. Or sometimes when I'm curled up on the couch surrounded by children and a good book. (Did I mention we homeschool?)

So after full days of keeping home and caring for my family, I stay up way too late and write about the blessings of my life. Those reflections on finding grace in the profoundly ordinary? I've made it a habit to share them on my blog, seamless.

I look forward to meeting you here again and again.