I decided to become Catholic in February 1992, a week before Lent started. Naturally, I was excited about my life as a Catholic, and I wanted to dive in headfirst. With Ash Wednesday approaching, I contemplated what I should “give up” for Lent (as a Protestant, I had never participated in Lent before). In my youthful enthusiasm, I decided to give up…food. I had read that St. Francis of Assisi — already my favorite saint — fasted for 40 days one Lent, so I figured, “Why not me too?” I did temper my fast a bit: I allowed myself some bread and water each day, as well as a meal on Sundays.
So how did that first Lent go? By the first Sunday, I had already given up on my fast, after being weak, miserable, and cranky for four straight days. I couldn’t concentrate on my studies, and I was difficult to be around. By Monday I was back to pizza, hamburgers, and my other unhealthy college eating decisions. So much for youthful enthusiasm.
That first foray into fasting was to become a foreshadowing of the next couple decades. Every Lent, and sometimes during other times of the year, I would try to fast at least a little more than the Church’s current guidelines (one meal a day plus two small meals that don’t add up to another full meal). I would skip lunch or breakfast, or I would eat little at each meal. But no matter what I did, my attempts ended in me being miserable, insufferable, and definitely no closer to Christ than when I began.
However, in the past year, I’ve discovered it is possible to fast — even for days at a time — in a way that not only allows me to fulfill the duties of my state of life, but also bestows spiritual and mental clarity. What changed?