I wrote in my last two posts about general fasting principles and specifics for the one kind of partial fast, the Daniel Fast. But it’s hard to start fasting if you’re caught up internally with the social awkwardness problem. At least I was. Maybe you have these same questions.
My first tension was with Jesus’ teaching on fasting. He said “But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen…” (Matt 6:17-18a). It seems that Jesus is saying that his followers shouldn’t let anyone know they are fasting. How can we follow this teaching and live everyday life, especially if we are doing a full fast or a restricted diet fast?
I believe Jesus is teaching less about whether people know you’re fasting and more about internal attitude. Some religious folks in Jesus’ day were making a big deal of their fasting. They wanted people to know how spiritual they were. Jesus was countering that.
We see Jesus dealing with this same problem in his teaching on prayer. “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (Matt 6:6). Jesus teaches that our spiritual disciplines should be private and not about getting spiritual kudos from others who see us. But on several occasions Jesus does pray in public (Matt 19:13, Luke 10:21), even though his usual routine is pray in a quiet place alone. Jesus is speaking less about being completely inconspicuous and more about the heart. Fasting and prayer should not to be used to boost our spiritual reputation, but to connect with our Father.
Practically, it’s impossible to be completely secretive about fasting. And Jesus would not have a problem with others knowing you are fasting, but would if you used it to boost your spiritual reputation.
My second tension was with how others would feel. If I don’t eat like normal, people around me will feel uncomfortable. And, eating out is a key way to connect with people…I’m afraid I’ll lose my social life.
There is some truth to the first…people will feel a bit uncomfortable. I deal with this by letting key people know ahead of time that I am doing a fast. Let your host know before you come over that are you doing a full fast. “I know this is a little strange. I won’t be eating when we come over. But didn’t want to miss the chance to hang out!” Or if you are doing a partial fast, say something like “I know this is a little strange, but I’m just eating fruits and vegetables for the next month. Could I bring a salad?”
What I’ve found is that, especially among post-modern, post-Christians, fasting is not nearly as strange as we might think. Many people are trying fasts for all sorts of reasons. And honestly, many younger generations have only seen “nominal Christians,” and they respect friends really trying to follow Jesus’ teachings. I will often say something like, “I really try to follow Jesus’s teachings and one of his teachings was on fasting. So I’m learning how to fast.”
There is some truth to the second too: your social life does change. Like I mentioned in the first post, a season of fasting is for an increased season of prayer. You may choose to not eat lunch with your family or co-workers for a time so that you can have more time in prayer. But discernment is best here. For example, in my season of life with young kids, I highly value family meals, even lunch if I am working at home. It would be unhelpful for my family for me to miss all those meals to pray. So I choose to pray through lunch or dinner and still drank a glass a water/juice at the others meals.
People WILL know that you are fasting. As much as possible, we connect with our Father in private, and when we are in public, we do not use our spiritual disciplines as a way to gain honor. So here is where the opportunity comes.
When people see that we are fasting and that we are not trying to gain spiritual honor, we have the unique chance to point others to Jesus the Messiah and his path of life. Our friends and family need a real-life model of what life following Jesus looks like. We invite others into a life of following Jesus by being imitators of Jesus ourselves, and then calling others to consider following him as well. Each time you humbly and clearly communicate why you are fasting, you are announcing “Jesus in Lord” in our day.
Fasting can be awkward, but it also brings opportunities to humbly announce the true and living way of Jesus. For others learning to fast, what other ways do you feel social awkwardness and what other opportunities has it brought?