I was introduced to Oxfam in high school. Students were organizing a campaign for third world relief in conjunction with that organization. Part of the campaign involved taking a pledge to forego a meal on behalf of those who do not have enough to eat.
That did not make sense to me. I would much rather have spent my energy getting food to those who need it rather than going without food. It seemed counter-intuitive. At the very worst, it seemed like a waste of time.
In the time since, my appreciation for fasting has grown considerably. I do think it is a very
worthwhile practice. Certainly with Oxfam, the notion of solidarity is striking. We know there are millions of people without food across the world. It says volumes without a word when we are willing to be hungry with them for a while.
When I was going in for surgery, I was not allowed to eat anything after midnight the night before. Being a young 30 years old, my surgery was scheduled late. It kept getting pushed off later and later to make way for younger children and older people who needed their operations earlier in the day. It was harder for them to get through the fast for so long. My dad decided to fast with me. He did not drink any coffee until I was in the operating room. Despite a strong headache and my urgings, he quietly refrained until I was in. I can't even begin to tell you how meaningful that was. It goes outside the realm of words. Logically, it makes no sense. Why have 2 people suffer when only 1 needs to suffer? It shows that there is something more important than the 3-dimensions around us. (Whether he had his morning coffee or not, I don't remember, but he wasn't going to drink any in front of me while I was sitting there with a caffeine headache of my own.)
Fasting can be transformative, too. As one of the high school organizers said (whose name I unfortunately can't remember), "you can't go without a meal without thinking about what it must be like to live with hunger." It is quiet and powerful.
Much ado has been made about all lenten promises we make as children. Maybe it is silly to give up chocolate or reduce TV viewing during Lent. I suppose those are not very big sacrifices. I do not sneer at them, though. Just the very thought that giving up something is a good thing and an appropriate spiritual practice is invaluable. I would urge people not to judge their lenten sacrifices too harshly.
To many in our culture, the thought of giving up anything at any time is just outside of the realm of imagination. It is just not considered. Like me as a high school student, the answer to our problem is always "more" and not "less."