always lent, Auto-immunity, calendar concerns, Fasting, food allergies, Lent, Uncategorized

Fasting From Perfectionism

fasting

I like to look good on paper. Growing up as the oldest child in a dysfunctional home, I became an overfunctioning powerhouse. Straight A averages, community service, extracurricular activities, helping with little kids, polite manners, respecting my elders, memorizing scripture, saying my prayers: If it was what one was “supposed” to do, I did it. Even though I’m decades along in healing from that past, I still really, really like to do things the way I’m supposed to.

Nowadays, instead of aiming for perfection, I sometimes think of doing the things asked of me by the Church in terms of obedience. Obedience is a shortcut to wisdom, and I love wisdom. 

So what’s the problem?

I can’t fast.

If you’re thinking, “So what?” you weren’t listening. I can’t fast (!), and did you see the calendar with its demarcations of fasting and not fasting and strict fasting and less strict fasting, fish or oil and wine fasting? Anxiety attack. How can I be a good Christian if I [mostly] can’t fast?

When I find myself spiraling into the desire to look good on paper, I stop and remember what fasting is supposed to be for.

In Philippians 3, {<-Click to read the passage} St. Paul points out that if anyone could be considered righteous (good on paper) according to the flesh, it was he. Here’s a man who had everything going for him, but thanks be to God, laid aside his claim to righteousness so that he could press toward the true calling of Christ, who will one day “change our humble body.”

In Orthodoxy, whenever a pattern repeats itself through scripture and the tradition of the holy fathers, we pay attention. Here’s the pattern that catches me up in the Spirit’s net when I start to despair:

Humility is more important than outward piety. True asceticism is known by its fruits, not by its appearance. 

Again and again, we see apparently unjust people -those who for some reason don’t look like they’re doing the righteous thing- revealed at last as the ones who have obtained the gifts of humility and mercy.

I’m not writing this to say that I’m one of those perfect ones. But I want to encourage you, dear brothers and sisters who struggle with me under unusual dietary prescriptions, to see that our goal of growing in God is not out of reach just because we don’t look good on paper. 

Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then your light shall break forth like the morning,
Your healing shall spring forth speedily,
And your righteousness shall go before you;
The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.

-Isaiah 58: 6-9 (NKJV)

When I talk with Orthodox friends about fasting {<-click for a recent podcast discussion with Angela Doll Carlson}, especially when they have health issues that keep them from the traditional fasts, we usually conclude that we can do works of mercy and call it even. Now, of course those who can fast in the usual ways can also do works of mercy. We’re not saying otherwise. What we’re saying is that God has still given us paths to know Him.

Whether we fast with the calendar, or whether our lives are Always Lent, God is still with us. We can still lay aside every earthly care to welcome the King of all. Why? Because fasting -or living an Always Lent life- makes us see that God has already given us everything we need by giving us Himself. 

How do you make sense of not being able to fast in the usual way? Please comment with your ideas and insights so we can all be encouraged.

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