Fasting follow-up: what God taught me


Be ready for the unexpected when posing your question to God. As with Elijah in 1 Kings 19:12, the answer will often come as a whisper.

Last month I used this space to lament my lack of understanding with regards to fasting. I received wonderful feedback from a reader who mirrored my quandary about the use of fasting as a practical tool for self-improvement (such as weight loss) versus an opportunity for greater holiness. In his letter he shared a story he heard from a homily which illustrated a salient point about fasting. Father told the story of a simple exercise practiced by St. Teresa of Avila who kept a peach in front of her all during Lent. One of the nuns asked her why she tortured herself with the peach, which she really liked. Her response was that if she couldn’t resist a small temptation, how could she resist a big temptation — to sin?

My temptations are not so much involved with what I do but more with what I won’t do. My exploration of fasting has become a glaring spotlight exposing my spiritual laziness (also known as sloth). Despite an awareness of dryness in my soul, I failed to act. It was easier to remain small-hearted, performing my daily rituals without taking the time to let God speak to me, mold me, and transform me. By posing those questions in my last column, I inadvertently opened my heart to God’s grace, releasing His power to change me.

Since fasting in our household is a daily occurrence, it requires greater work and imagination when it comes to food shopping and meal preparation, two things I don’t enjoy or do well. I found my focus shifting from my distaste for the work to offering service to my husband, who has a grueling church schedule during Lent. It became important for me to ensure that he had a good meal each night when he came home from church. Such preparation transformed dreaded tasks into offerings of love.

But there was more. I became mindful of the need to make the most of the little time we do have together. So rather than go to bed early and merely say goodnight to Rich when he came home, I kept him company watching late-night TV shows. I devoted more of my free time to taking walks with him rather than pursuing my own interests. Such small things — but when I think back to Saint Teresa and the peach I realize it is such acts that bring us closer to God.

And that is what is happening. These little acts are creating a thirst for God that I have not felt in a long while. That thirst, slowly but surely, is driving me to carve out an extra half hour in my day to meditate on the daily readings. Beginning with a hymn or song to soften my heart and open my mind, I read the daily readings plus a commentary from The Word Among Us. I allow some time for the lesson to sink in and translate into some kind of action. Again, the actions are small. I am keenly aware of being in the baby stage when it comes to stilling my mind and heart so I can sense God’s voice; it will take a great deal of work for this discipline to grow. But if St. Teresa can stare at that peach and resist it, I can certainly resist my spiritual laziness and spend more time meditating on the wonders of God’s power and love.

I am thankful to Bob Wondolowski of St. Mary’s in Uxbridge, MA for his thoughtful letter which has helped to shape my Lent and reveal to me precious hidden mysteries. I had no idea when I posed the questions in my last column that God would reveal to me such wisdom.

Be ready then to receive a wealth of answers when you pose your questions to God. They will not likely be what you’d expect.

Copyright 2018 Susan Bailey


About Author

Susan Bailey is the author of River of Grace Creative Passages Through Difficult Times (Ave Maria Press), and Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message (ACTA Publications), part of their Literary Portals to Prayer series. Along with her blogs Be as One and Louisa May Alcott is My Passion, Susan writes for the Diocese of Worcester newspaper, The Catholic Free Press.

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