It was the walnuts that were calling to me the most. A handful of them, in halves and pieces, sat in a plastic baggie tucked away on my desk, taunting me all afternoon with the promise of their salt and their crunch.
And here’s the thing: I don’t even like walnuts all that much.
But, apparently, this is what fasting — true fasting, not the make-up-the-rules-as-I-go-along fasting I usually do (only during Lent) — can do to somebody.
But let me back up. Last summer, OSV Newsweekly ran a story about a group of men who fast on bread and water at least one day a month for the intention of their wives and marriages (or future wives, girlfriends, fiancés, mothers, daughters — any women important in their lives).
The group is called e5 Men, named after the verse in Ephesians 5. "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her." Months ago, after first reading about the group, I intended on joining. And I never did. But it’s the thought that counts, right?
That idea of joining those e5 Men, however, percolated for several months, and last week, I made the decision to commit to it by telling my wife, on her birthday, that I intended on fasting once a week for her and our marriage. (It wasn’t her only gift. I’m cheap, but I’m not that cheap.)
Now, the instructions on the e5 Men website say specifically the fast is only bread and water for a 24-hour period, but I decided to make a personal alteration for the most ridiculous reason: carbs. I’m trying to lose weight and eat healthier, so I didn’t want to spend one day a week jamming myself full of bread. (Because in my all-or-nothing world, eating nearly nothing all day isn’t sticking to my diet enough. I might be an idiot, but at least I’m a committed one.) So instead of bread, my fast would be brown rice, whose carbohydrates are at least complex.
Of course, on Day 1 of my fast, I completely forgot to pack my delicious brown-rice lunch. It did cross my mind to just postpone my first fast, but I’m trying harder to live life with more resolve, so I substituted the only thing I had available: oatmeal, which is kind of rice-like, only with brown sugar and maple.
Despite skipping breakfast, I made it through the morning fine, and then I savored my syrup-flavored, microwaved lunch.
But temptation began trying to storm the castle in the early afternoon. My first and most powerful adversary — other than the walnuts — was the gum in my desk drawer. This will sound like an exaggeration, but I promise you it isn’t: I chew a good eight to 10 pieces of gum a day. It helps with cravings, they say. But what do you do when craving gum? Regardless, I spent too much time debating with myself whether or not gum (or the candy-like vitamin C drops in my pocket — especially the grapefruit ones) was allowable during the 24 hours of fasting. I did what I do best: justify my bad habits. You’re not really eating anything when chewing gum, I told myself; you’re really just flavoring your saliva. And vitamin C drops (especially the grapefruit ones) are mostly medicine just masquerading as sugar.
But then I did what I rarely do. I pushed back. I tightened my resolve. I went the entire day gum-free, walnut-free. I came home and happily, proudly ate my big bowl of brown rice. My beautiful, devout wife joined me in the evening fast and plans to fast herself once a week. And our pious, sweet daughter asked if she could fast, too, starting next week.
Normally, I would say misery loves company, but that isn’t necessarily the case here, because despite the fact that the container of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup ice cream stared at me whenever I opened the freezer, I wasn’t miserable. Hungry? Certainly. But it’s tough to complain about being hungry when it’s a choice I get to make versus a constant struggle like so many others face.
And while I spent more time thinking about what I could and couldn’t eat than I did actually praying for my wife and our marriage, I already have a better understanding of the benefits of the fast. If I was just fasting for the sake of fasting, I would have caved under a mountain of gum after lunch, but knowing I was doing it for her gave me a strong sense of purpose.
What I’ll most take away from the first day was the tremendous satisfaction of feeling like I had control over my temptations, and if I can sharpen that skill through fasting, it can only help make me — and my marriage — that much stronger.
For more information on the e5 Men, visit their website here.
Scott Warden is the associate editor of OSV Newsweekly. Follow him on Twitter @Scott_OSV.
For more of Scott's Confessions of a Catholic Dad, click here.