Men and Women Fasting
The Skinny on Fasting
Everyone has had some experience with fasting - whether in preparation of a medical procedure, as a dietary practice, or religious experience; fasting has always existed. It's nothing new. Skipping a meal, or prolonging the time between meals, can vary, and certainly the earliest groups of people were naturally used to either waiting long periods of time for food to be hunted and/or prepared, or else they ate light and prepared meals that didn't involve much cooking, if at all. It is only as time has gone on, that modern advances have paved the way for us to enjoy food quicker, and not only do we have MEALS but also SNACKS. It seems like now more than ever, we are bombarded by food, driven by the need to eat, and it's no surprise that more adults today are prone to weight gain, heart burn, ulcers, fatigue, and sleep problems.
The church will tell you that food is to be consumed to live, rather than to live to eat. Religious leaders everywhere agree that fasting helps break the chain of dependence on outside influences, in order to rely on the Source of Life itself as the main focus. When combined with prayer, fasting has been proven to clear the mind and heighten the senses - which is also no surprise, since much of the foods regularly consumed fill the body with toxins and extra doses of fat, causing feelings of sluggishness and irritability.
In the New Testament, Jesus claims to be the Bread of Life, and that people cannot live by bread alone, nor can they truly live without God's word. These statements suggest that human wants can be quieted by replacing temptations with affirmations of what really matters. But is it so wrong to be hungry? Does hunger ever become a sin? Didn't Jesus (and God) require fasting FROM FOOD as well as HABITS?
Hunger is a natural response to burning energy. Because Jesus walked the earth, He too ate regularly and knew what it felt like to be hungry. When He chose to fast, it was not unlike the occasions the Israelites in the Old Testament faced when God required them to fast and pray so that they could be humbled and have their prayers heard. Not only was it to build trust and further their faith, but as a way to block out everyday distractions.
See Ezra 8:23, Psalm 69:10, Psalm 109:24, Leviticus 23:26-32, Joel 2:15, Zechariah 7 and 8:19, and Isaiah 58.See Matthew 4, 6, 9, and 17 for some back-stories and the discussions on fasting practices, as well as interesting points found in Mark 2:18-22 and Luke 18. And lest we forget, there are the marks of ministry found in 2 Corinthians 6:1-10, which mentions fasting.
Fasting is Not Created Equal
Fasting from food contains several benefits for men. According to the Men's Journal, such benefits include weight loss, increased energy and muscle tone, and an improved immune system. From a scientific standpoint, the process of fasting for any length of time triggers the body to burn fat, rather than glucose. In women, however, fasting can do more harm than good, causing irregular or absent menstruation, hormonal imbalances, blood sugar imbalances, the inability to lose weight, or a lowered immune system.
With such a difference in results, what can be said with fasting for religious reasons? And who is instructed in the Bible to fast? Culturally-speaking, women and children in those days were not usually in public, unless accompanied by their husbands or fathers, and therefore most practices were intended for men - so women were expected to support them behind the scenes. What we do know is that the Bible is very clear on assigned roles as part of being in a family and of a community.
- Men are providers of their families: gardeners (Genesis 2:15), zoologists (Genesis 2:19-20), and laborers (Genesis 3:19). As husbands, they are to love their wives with the same love they have for the church, as well as themselves (Ephesians 5:25, 28, 31, 33) and to discipline their children fairly (Ephesians 6:4).
- Women are helpers: companions (Genesis 2:18, 20-24), caregivers/mothers/nurturers - but not taking charge OVER the mate (Genesis 3:16 and Ephesians 5:22-24), and encouragers (1 Peter 3:1).
- Christians, aka the church members, have mutual roles as well as specifics by gender or rank. All are created to be imitators of God, walking in love with all people (Ephesians 5:1-21 and 1 John 5:2). Everyone is to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1-3 and Colossians 3:20), obey bosses and authorities (Ephesians 6:5-8, Colossians 3:22, and Hebrews 13:17), treat workers well (Ephesians 6:9), and give cheerfully to orphans and widows and the general needy (James 1:27 and Matthew 19:21). Singles also have a responsibility to serve The Lord whole-heartedly (1 Corinthians 7:8 and 12:19).
Since women are called to their own work in The Lord for the church or vocation, in addition to caring for the needs of their household and family, they need adequate food and other resources to be successful. In that way, they can be helpers, while being their unique selves. So even if women may not be able to physically handle fasting from food completely, they can fast from favorite foods, activities, or vices that can rob them of their time, money, and relationships. This kind of fasting can be short-term, as with Lent, a 10 Day Cleanse, or detoxification program, but it can also lead to a permanent life without whatever was removed from everyday habit. In truth, the Christian experience requires a change in heart and habit to adopt a new way of life - in whatever way that makes the most sense and fosters a closer relationship with the Lord.
Questions to Consider
1. What does your daily schedule look like? How do you use it to bless your relationship with your family/household and God?
2. Name some things you can fast from in order to draw closer to God.
3. How often do you think you should fast?
4. If you are not where you want to be in any goals you want to complete, how can you incorporate fasting to benefit your progress?
"Food" for thought: http://www.gci.org/bible/mark2c.