What immediately comes to mind when you think of fasting? I am almost certain the first thing that comes to mind is food. When we start thinking of what to deny ourselves, food normally comes to mind.
The central idea about fasting is to voluntarily deny ourselves of an otherwise normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity. Fasting help us become more aware of our true needs. When we deny ourselves the comforts we are used to, we become more mindful of our need for God.
This being a season of Lent I would like to propose another kind of fasting. I would like to propose fasting from criticalness
Several years ago I happened about this type of fasting as part of a men's group who would regularly meet for spiritual reading and discussion. We decided to include fasting from "being critical" as part of our Lenten journey. For one week, every one of us in the group would refrain from being critical of anything and everything throughout the day.
You see there is a tendency for us to always offer a "better solution, alternative, or opinion" on any subject that comes up for discussion (be it religious, political, in the sports arena, and everything in between). There is also a tendency for us to see something to "quiver about" how a person does something (from how they go about doing things, the way they dress, the way they act and behave, etc.). During this exercise we decided on one fundamental principle: "The world can go on for a week without our opinion and suggestions no matter how good we think they are or no matter how much we think the world needs it!"
For one week, we will simply observe and take everything in. The only thing we were allowed to do was to offer words of encouragement and affirmations.
Here's what I found out during this exercise:
- It is not easy not being critical.
- To not be critical is an exercise in humility. We don't know everything and we don't always have the right or best answer.
- It takes the discipline of patience, silence and active listening to counteract the need to be critical.
- When we focus too much on being critical, we focus less on giving affirmations or seeing what is good and beautiful or working about something. A critical spirit focuses us on ourselves.
- Being critical is the opposite of being creative. A critical spirit blocks the positive thoughts God longs to give us.
- Relationships typically suffer when we are being critical. A critical spirit not only inhibits positive relationships it often leads to the opposite result -- it produces retaliatory criticalness.
Here's a suggestion. Whenever we are tempted to be critical of something or someone, whenever we see something genuinely wrong (or perceive something as genuinely wrong) in another person's behavior or opinion, rather than criticize the person directly, or speak behind the person's back about it, why don't we pray to the Holy Spirit for assistance and direction, and for the Holy Spirit to do the necessary correction.
I know what you're going to say. "But I need to say something for the person's good! There is such a thing as right and wrong after all. There's such as thing as rightful indignation. What you are asking is for people to not have a say on things, to not have an opinion. This fasting is missing so many things on so many levels. This whole article is bogus (you are being overly critical by the way), etc. etc."
This is what I have to say. Just give it a try for one week or better yet, for the balance of Lent. You never know what you will discover about yourself, others and God. Remember, criticalness blocks the work of the Holy Spirit, the spirit of God that is creative, loving, merciful and full of good will. Here's something to reflect on while you are fasting on being critical:Isaiah 58:3-11
'Why do we fast, but you do not see it?
Afflict ourselves, but you take no note?"
See, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, and drive all your laborers.
See, you fast only to quarrel and fight and to strike with a wicked fist!
Do not fast as you do today to make your voice heard on high!
Is this the manner of fasting I would choose, a day to afflict oneself?
To bow one's head like a reed, and lie upon sackcloth and ashes?
Is this what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?
Authentic Fasting That Leads to Blessing
Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose:
releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke?
Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry, bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house;
Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own flesh?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say:
"Here I am!"
If you remove the yoke from among you, the accusing finger, and malicious speech;
If you lavish your food on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted;
Then your light shall rise in the darkness, and your gloom shall become like midday;
Then the LORD will guide you always and satisfy your thirst in parched places, will give strength to your bones.
And you shall be like a watered garden, like a flowing spring whose waters never fail.
May the Lord Bless you during this season of Lent and always,