Fasting – it’s trendy right now, promising everything from weight loss to a cure for cancer. Fasting hearkens back to a variety of ancient traditions and, in some, carries with it the promise of spiritual clarity and physical healing. In numerous Biblical accounts, for example, fasting was practiced in deep times of need (Job), in times of mourning and as intercessory prayer (Nehemiah and Daniel after Jerusalem had been desolated) and in times of much needed spiritual strength (Jesus fasts forty days in the wilderness and returns to heal the masses).
Although the writings are ancient, to me these accounts don’t feel so far from our modern headlines.
The call for fasting, old or new, remains a part of our world’s culture. And modern medicine is increasingly trying to determine what actual health value it might have.
For some, a prolonged period in which one abstains from solid food supports mental acuteness, bodily cleansing, and even physical healing. One recent study, published in the March 30, 2015 Oncotarget, reports positive lab results for cancer victims associated with short fasts.
Still, consider another general medical opinion – WebMD presents fasting as only marginally safe and a relatively unsustainable method for losing weight. “…the risks far outweigh any benefits, and ultimately, fasting can cause more harm than good.” Despite the hopeful reports, fasting is not for everyone. Patients that fast frequently find themselves drained both in body and mind, which can lead to other problems.
And in some cases, fasting just isn’t an option.
Take Christian healer and health-pioneer Mary Baker Eddy, who as a young woman experimented with numerous curative methods – including forms of fasting – to treat her own illnesses. After enduring an extended fast that left her worse off, she turned away from fasting as a medical treatment. But Eddy then turned to her deep heritage of Bible study, where she grasped a practical sense of God’s abundant promise to sustain His creation. She realized that God didn’t make a law that fasting from food was a means of health. Ultimately, she came to the conclusion that to be whole and healthy she had to stop relying on a material solution and undertake a more spiritual kind of fasting. As she put it, “…abandon so fast as practical the material, and to work out the spiritual which determines the outward and actual.”
Abandon the material? Isn’t that harder than abstaining from food? When my close relative was diagnosed with cancer, I experienced the healing power of this kind of fasting for myself. I had emotions, fears and expectations of unsavory, ugly, life-experiences. The medical care provider offered counselling and support resources to help cope with the impending flurry of procedures and treatments. All of this happened right on top of the holidays. The stress of it all threatened not only my mental but also my physical well being.
I made some time to pray – to quiet my thinking and to affirm my unbreakable relationship with goodness – God, divine Love. The inspiration then came to me to mentally and emotionally fast from the clinical and emotional expectations commonly associated with this experience, and to expect a peaceful future based on the changeless love of God for both my relative and me. This inspiration provided me comfort and protection – a better understanding of God’s care. There was a promise of hope.
That said, it was not easy. I had to refuse to respond to the alarms and video loops of “what if’s” that kept playing out in my head. Making a conscious effort to abstain from fear-filled anxiety was the toughest “fast” of my life.
A favorite verse from Jeremiah helped me the most: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”
As I practiced denying fear — giving it no room in my consciousness — I gained some momentum. I found I had the strength to quickly refuse the random, crazy emotional blasts. With that, I moved through the holidays at a normal, festive pace.
It was New Year’s Eve, the results from the first surgery were back, and they were all negative. They couldn’t find the cancer, there was no cancer, no further treatment was needed. Those worrisome “what-if” scenarios did not come to pass.
In society today, the physical fast can’t meet everyone’s needs, but a mental fast from fear, gloomy expectations and what-if scenarios offers us all an effective tool to rest and heal.