As I near the end of Ramadan, I have begun considering what my daily routine will be like without fasting.
I have fallen into a consistent pattern that begins at 4:15 am with a morning meal, chased with lots of water, Bible reading, and prayer. I typically get back into bed for another hour or so of sleep.
Throughout the day, whenever I begin to crave a drink or snack, I snap back to attention before God and whisper a prayer. Then, about 8:15 pm, I grab a date, take a long drink of water, and the fast is broken.
It makes me a little sad that I will be following this routine for only a couple more days.
But I hope that my life is forever changed by the experience, and I hope there are long-term effects of my fast. The whole point of Ramadan is to be changed – for good. It’s not simply a set of exercises that one must endure for thirty days so that you can earn a reward in heaven, or earn a check mark next to your name on the “Good” list.
And living “right” during Ramadan does not give one license to live “wrong” the other eleven months of the year. As one Muslim friend told me, Ramadan is like a spiritual “boot camp,” training for the rest of the year. It’s intended to make it easier to live in submission to God’s will all the year round.
I’ve heard it explained that fasting is learning how to say “no” to permissible things, in order that it may be easier for us to say “no” to things which are not permissible. I would add that it also helps us to say “yes” to the eternal, spiritual blessings which God offers to us in tiny, subtle ways throughout the day. That is a discipline we all need throughout the year.
Christians make the same mistake, of course. A colleague told me about a parishioner he knew who gave up drinking beer during Lent. On Easter morning, the man loaded a cooler full of beer, and started drinking as soon as the sun came up.
My colleague commented drily, “I don’t think he really understood what Lent was all about.”
When we view the practice of fasting as something which must be endured in order to earn a reward, then we have entirely missed the point. Fasting is a discipline which forms and shapes us, makes us into people who are more responsive to God.
That’s why I don’t think I will know how effective my Ramadan fast has been until a few weeks after Ramadan is over. Will I act differently? Will I be closer to my God? Will I be more loving to my family and neighbors? Will I be more sensitive to people in need, to the poor and destitute?
If I manage to complete the 30-day fast successfully, but end up acting selfishly and hatefully on the thirty-first, or forty-first, or sixtieth day, then my first Ramadan will have been a failure.