"Above all the grace and gifts that Christ gives to his beloved, is that of overcoming self." ~ St. Francis of Assisi
I have often pondered this quote in thinking about my own trouble in surrendering to Christ. I've even asked priest, therapist, close friends, family, "what does it mean to surrender to Christ?" "What does it mean to let go and let God?" I guess in my blindness and desire to hold on to my will, I could not even conceptualize nor put into action these questions and thoughts.
I have struggled with anxiety for most of (if not all) my adult life. Having anxiety can be hellish. You are literally a prisoner of your own thoughts, that just keep repeating themselves, basically like a tape recorder. You worry about the future and if it will be like this or like that. You think that by worrying about, you have some sense of control, you can somehow get in front of it and fix it. However, that is a false sense of control. What happens is that, anxiety is incredibly habit forming and it can spread to almost all aspects of your life.
At the beginning of 2010, I decided to do something simple, yet in some ways profound, in order to help overcome some of my anxiety. I gave up caffeine. Now, I know this may seem trivial to some, but for me, it was a HUGE deal! I realized that by not having caffeine, I had to let myself be tired when I was tired. I always noticed a severe tightening in my chest not occurring as frequently. In a sense, a year and almost two months later, I feel a little more sober. I noticed that in not having caffeine to keep me pumped up, I was in a small way not feeding my anxiousness. I also noticed that my mind was a little clearer and other negative habits and behaviors of mine were brought to my attention. I could start to honestly look at myself and sort out where some of this anxiousness was truly coming from, now that I could not blame it on caffeine.
In same ways, I view giving up caffeine as a fast (one that will probably be a life long fast). Fasting is so difficult, because us humans are so incredibly weak, but, I am starting to see that the fruits of it are entirely worth it! In one of our Lady's messages in Medjugorje, Mary states to the visionaries, "Through fasting and prayer, one can stop wars, one can suspend the laws of nature." Wow! How amazing these rewards are! I think Mary means that through fasting, we can stop the wars also within ourselves, we can work towards overcoming our own self occupation and start surrendering ourselves to God. As Fr. Slavko Barbaric states, "it is by prayer, of course that we attach ourselves to God, but it is by fasting that we detach ourselves from the world."
Part of my new goals for 2011 have been to start fasting once a week. Some weeks have been better than others, but I am determined to keep trying. I noticed last week, during one of my better fasting days, that it was very difficult, but I knew that it was a way to carry my cross that day and bare the slight inconvenience of hunger, a sacrifice for God that would turn into a later spiritual fruit and grace. When I awoke the next morning though, I felt a sense of peace, energy and I noticed later in the week when I was met with difficulty, I was a little more patient, my responses to others were more gentle and I even started in my prayers to take time not to speak, but sit in silence and listen.
Sometimes, I do not think we understand how are habits can keep us away from God and prisoners of ourselves. Again, Fr. Slavko Barbaric speaks of this when he states, "Fasting is a call to conversion directed to our body. And as we free ourselves from things outside of ourselves, we also free ourselves from the passions within us that are keeping our interior life in chains."
We all have things that we need to detach ourselves from. Fasting can help us, because it places are reliance not on us, but on Christ. I am starting to slowly see that this is part of the answer to how we can surrender. First we do need to die to ourselves and the practice of fasting, helps us to empty ourselves so that we can do just that.
Let us remember that this ancient Christian tradition is more needed in our society of individualism and self analysis more than ever before. Remember, fasting has the power "stop wars." With this, I encourage you to think about fasting for a spiritual gift, a family member, friend, or for a special prayer intention. Why not even fast for your enemies? Someone you struggle with in your life? You can even start small. This being said, I leave you with this beautiful, simple and humble prayer:
"Lord, as I fast unto You, replace the source of my joy, peace and gentleness with You. Purify my character so that I rely on continual surrender to Jesus instead of the contentment of the flesh." Amen.
Beyer, Richard. (1993). Medjugorje Day by Day. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press.
Bruursema, Kevin. The Value of Fasting: Spiritual Discovery. Retrieved February 16, 2011 from: http://blogs.newlifechicago.mobi/MainBlog/post/2011/01/08/The-Value-of-Fasting-Spiritual-Discovery.aspx