by Rev. Aaron Tiger
Sometimes I envy babies because they get to expression their emotions without restrictions. If they are hungry, they cry. If they are angry, they cry. If they are lonely, they cry. If they are tired, they cry. Once they get their needs met, they go back to being peaceful, playful little boys and girls. You and I do not get that luxury. As adults, expressing our emotions without restrictions is frowned upon. Imagine going to lunch with someone, and they just start crying uncontrollably because the food is not their own time, and their hunger overwhelms them. I don’t know about you, but all of the sudden my “phone would ring,” and I would have to take this “important call.”
We may not outwardly express our emotions, but that doesn’t mean that they still have an effect on us. In fact, the acronym H.A.L.T. (which stands for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired) has been used by many different circles to help people become aware that they may be on edge and more prone to a negative behavior. For some that may be participating in an addictive behavior like pornography or alcohol. For others, it may be just be a tendency to be short and snappy with others when they are feeling like this. Snickers has made a whole commercial series about this, and they have a website with their slogan.
For most of my life, I never have understood the spiritual discipline of fasting. I know Jesus did it. I know lots of people throughout time have done it, and I have even done it, but it did not mean much to me. What does not eating have to do with my spiritual life? People say pray instead of eat, and I tried that. It was nice. People say focus on God as the sustainer, and I tried that. It, too, was nice. People say give the money you would have spent on food to the poor, and I tried that. It was nice. But it seemed like fasting needed to be more. I just did not understand it. Then one night during a discussion, it hit me, and I finally understood fasting.
When Tiger Woods was growing up and learning how to play golf his dad Earl would intentionally distract him while he was swinging, so that he would learn how to stay focused during a stressful situation. He knew that if his son could successfully stay focused during stressful situations, he would be more likely to succeed under the tremendous stress that happens on the back-nine of a major championship. Basic training for the military operates under some of the same principles. In their task to transform citizens to soldiers, they put people in physical and emotional stressful situations, so that they can prepare for the demands that a soldier could be put under.
I think fasting operates under similar principles. Fasting puts our body in a stressful situation, and under that stress we learn to focus on God and learn how to live fully when our body is empty. Let me say that again, fasting is learning how to live fully, when our body is empty. It is an intentional spiritual discipline whereby we are preparing ourselves for the stresses of life and remaining attuned to God in the midst of it. So while snickers may say, “you’re not you when you are hungry.”
Fasting opens the door for us to be fully alive no matter the stress.
Some of the people that I respect most are the ones that are “in-control” during stressful situations. How do you learn to do that? One way is fasting. So why fast? Because it teaches us how to rely on God during stressful situations, and that is one thing that I need desperately.