For several years now, I’ve been trying to add more spiritual practices to keep myself engaged with my beliefs and to keep myself from becoming bored and stagnant. I’m great at reviving traditions or focusing on something new during a particular season such as Advent or Lent, but the season of Ordinary Time (from Pentecost to Advent) drags on so long it’s easy to be lazy. It doesn’t help that summer falls within Ordinary Time and without the usual schedule, it’s easy for me to lose track of time and my routines.
Now that school and the fall are here, I’m struggling, and somewhat succeeding, to get back into the routines and to shake off the dust of the summer. As I’m writing this today, it’s cold, rainy, and an all-around autumnal day. We actually have had a real fall this year with leaves of every shade of yellow, orange, and red. All the signs are pointing towards my favorite season of the year, Advent.
I love Advent because it’s focused on expectation and preparation, both of which I’m good at. I sometimes expect too much for things and put pressure on myself and the event, item, occasion, etc. and end up let-down and depressed once the occasion/item arrives. Christmas day used to be one of the biggest let downs of the year for me. Not because I was solely ungrateful for what I had received, but because I had unrealistic expectations for what I hoped my parents and family would think I wanted for Christmas. I had expectations not just for gifts, but for the day, the night before, the day after, you name it. My parents, on the other hand, were not festive people. There were many times the day after Christmas we would start taking down the decorations. Everything pointed to Christmas day and if the day didn’t deliver you were stuck with 364 days worth of unmet expectations.
Advent breaks down our expectations into four weeks; from November 30 to December 25. Each week focuses on a different aspect of Jesus’s first advent, and subtly mirrors his second. Christmas Day, then, doesn’t bare the entire burden for the season. It merely becomes a part of something bigger.
As part of my Advent last year, I fasted. Fasting during Advent? Isn’t that for Lent? Yes, Lent is typically when many people fast, but there’s a long standing tradition for fasting during Advent as well, it’s just not as popular because it flies in the face of all the glut of gifts and parties that fill the Advent season. Each Friday during Advent, I didn’t eat from sun-up to sun-down. Being that it’s winter, it’s not as hard as you might think. Plus, being a teacher, there’s many days I don’t get to eat lunch. Really it was just being more intentionally about when I did or didn’t eat.
Fasting during Advent taught me about my expectations and the reason why we should fast more. Not just from food either. The more I’ve fasted during particular seasons, the more I’m taught about the importance of intentionality. When you give something up as part of a fast, especially something that has become part of your daily regimen, you really have to intentionally give it up. It starts out easy, but then you get withdrawals. There’s moments where you question why you’re fasting and whether you can make it the whole time. Experience alone teaches you that if you push through this part of the fast, you’ll get to the ” bliss” section where you realize you’ve overcome. By this part of the fast, it’s usually over and then you wonder why you ever missed what you fasted from in the first place.
Besides Lent, and Advent, I’ve fasted from work and regular weekly activities and focused on church, friends, and family ever since I was a kid. I never called it a fast. I just called it “keeping Sabbath.” Since I grew up with it, I wasn’t intentional about it; it was just the norm. However, in reflecting on my spiritual practices I realized that taking a day to do put away regular things and engage in intentional activities at church or with friends and family I am fasting, in a way.
Recently I’ve gone a step further. I’ve started taking time on Sabbaths to fast from people. To be clear, not from ALL people, but from large groups or corporate entities. The last few years I’ve entered into a new phase of my life where I’ve become more introverted than I have before, which is compounded by a diagnosis of depression and anxiety. There are weeks that the usual Bible study-Church-hang out with friends routine has left me drained more than it has energized me. I end up starting the week more run down than I was on the Friday before.
It was accidental at first, when I would just say no to church and friends and just stay home. I would just read, reflect, relax, maybe not even leave the house from sundown Friday until Sunday afternoon. These times left me feeling recuperated and ready to tackle the week on Monday. Reflecting on these people-fast days made me more intentional about when I scheduled them. It’s too easy for me to let this become the new norm. After teaching all week and going to the many after-school events, it would be easy for me to rationalize a people-fast every weekend. Instead, planning a people-fast at least once a month has given me the energy and the affirmation to fast from interacting with people when the time comes.
As with all of my spiritual practices, they change and they morph. Some I retire, never to use again. Some never retire. Others I improve on each year and become even more meaningful on the repeat. I’m curious to see what will come of this people-fast. Is it just a phase or the beginning of something new? Only time will tell.