Among the acts of worship which God accepts, fasting is perhaps the most difficult to perform on a regular basis. It is difficult because it requires the body to forgo one of its most basic sources of pleasure, eating. Fasting is nothing more than giving up a routine, but it is such an ingrained routine that the entire system reacts against the idea. It cries subliminally as a baby for its bottle, creating such subliminal havoc in the mind that an excuse is usually accepted, the fast is either postponed, curtailed or modified.
Fasting confirms our utter dependence upon God by finding in Him a source of sustenance beyond food. [Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, p.166].
A baby cries for milk in a natural process that alerts the mother who instinctively responds. The relationship is so profound and intricate that serious emotional problems can result from a perverted relationship.
The adult human continues to cry for nourishment but in an unnatural process adopted from habit and culture. Often, food continues to represent security, love, maternal affection, etc. To deprive a person of food is more than just a dietary act. It represents a major disruption in the life process.
Fasting can be a painful admission that I am not free, that my life is enslaved, obsessed or addicted to external things such as food, drink, codependent relationships, sex, television, privacy and the like. [Albert Haase].
Intention to Fast
Nothing continues as usual when fasting begins. From the moment the intention to fast enters the thought process, normal routines end. The intention to fast can bring on a sense of relief that the long-awaiting process is about to start.
Prayer is reaching out after the unseen; fasting is letting go of all that is seen and temporal. Fasting helps express, deepen, confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God. [Andrew Murray].
The intention to fast can also trigger a pre-fast binge, a mini-mardi gras, as the last elements of physical attachment assert themselves. Sometimes, a one-day fast precipitates enough eating to last a week. Combine that with the feast that follows the fast and one has to wonder whether much has been gained. Nevertheless, just the process of asserting the will during a relatively short period time has lasting benefits.
Benefits of Fasting
In fact, one of the many benefits of fasting is that it strengthens the will, conditioning it for future frays against shortsightedness and weak resolve. As a long-distance runner can bring his disciple to other forums, so too can a fasting person apply the discipline exerted in fasting in other efforts.
Sharpen thy sickle, which thou hast blunted through gluttony—sharpen it by fasting. Lay hold of the pathway which leads towards heaven; rugged and narrow as it is, lay hold of it, and journey on. And how mayest thou be able to do these things? By subduing thy body, and bringing it into subjection. For when the way grows narrow, the corpulence that comes of gluttony is a great hindrance. Keep down the waves of inordinate desires. Repel the tempest of evil thoughts. Preserve the bark; display much skill, and thou hast become a pilot. But we shall have the fast for a groundwork and instructor in all these things. [St. Chrysostom: On the Priesthood; Ascetic Treatises].