One spiritual discipline that I have encountered the most difficulty in maintaining during medical school has been FASTING. With the Fast of the Nativity upon us, I thought it an opportune time to share how medical school has affected my fasting.
Why do I fast on Wednesdays and Fridays?
This is something I've done since I was 8 years old. That's because I belong to the Coptic Orthodox church and it's part of our tradition to fast every Wednesday and Friday throughout the year. My mom did it. My sister did it. My friends did it. So when I was 8, I just wanted to do it too! And that meant following a weird food diet. So I started fasting. And eventually it became a habit that I never saw any reason to break.
But there was a period of time in medical school when I started to break my fast on Wednesdays and Fridays quite a lot. Partly due to my inability to maintain a decent supply of vegan food for myself, partly due to the fact that I was surrounded by some people who didn't fast and was influenced by them, and mostly (99.999%), because I got lazy and didn't care.
And I used to quiet my guilty feelings by saying to myself: God doesn't really care...it's just food. "I'm in medical school," I used to tell myself, "I have to study a ton, I have to be up all night, I can go ahead and eat whatever I want."
I later realized how wrong I was. Here are four reasons why I NEED to fast (and you might too):
1) FASTING IS AN ESSENTIAL SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE
The Church gave us two days of the week - Wednesday and Friday – and told us to consecrate those days for fasting. Why? To push us to step back and remind us of who we are.
Why do I need to stop eating in order to do that? The food isn’t the essential thing but the food is simply the reminder to focus my attention on my spiritual life. I can't fool myself into thinking that what I feed my physical body with has no effect on my spiritual body – that is a lie. If they were two separate bodies with no effect on each other, then Christ's Incarnation - the Divinity taking the flesh of man - would be a lie as well. God forbid!
2) I NEED TO BE ABLE TO SAY "NO" TO MYSELF
Saying NO to myself is a crucial part of the spiritual life. If I can't even say NO to myself when it comes to certain foods, how can I hope to build up the strength and resolve to say NO to any kind of sin or temptation? To say NO to wearing clothes that don't respect my body as a temple of the Holy Spirit, to say NO to exposing myself to the noise and trash of this word (i.e., most things on the internet), to say NO to anything that has the potential of destroying my soul?
3) FASTING IS PART OF MY IDENTITY
I am what I am, a Coptic Orthodox Egyptian American, medical student, daughter, sister, friend, and someone who fasts every Wednesday and Friday of almost every week of the year because fasting is part of our faith. Our Holy Church – the 2000+ year-old church that has been handed down to us by apostolic tradition from the very hands of Christ's disciples – tells me to fast… who am I to break that tradition?
4) IN OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST
Christ told us to fast, plain and simple. He said, "This kind cannot come out except by prayer and fasting." Who am I to cut that verse in half and fulfill only the "prayer" portion of it? Even typing it sounds ridiculous.
So the answer to the question “does God really care whether I fast or not?” is YES! He does care. He cares not because HE needs me to fast; He cares because He knows that I need me to fast.
“And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.” (Matthew 9:15)