(Did you know we Catholics a six week excused break from doing ANY fasting or penance during the Easter Season? We can't fast while the Easter Bridegroom is with us! I've made sure to cook a meat dish for my family each and every Easter Friday.)
Fasting and Prayer go together, hand in hand. When you find yourself having trouble praying for a difficult family member or co-worker, try fasting once a week for them. You'll be totally shocked at how quickly your love will increase for "the difficult to love" people in your life.
I can't remember which Saint said this, but someone said "The penance that the Devil hates the most aren't all night prayer vigils or frequent whips of the St. Catherine Wheel. What angers the Devil most are fasts from food, water, and sleep."
Food. Water. Sleep.
Every single parent knows what it means to "fast from sleep." My husband and I joke that our beloved St. Martin of Porres (the man who could fly!) had an elaborate system of penance where he'd sleep on a board and wake himself up at 2 AM to whip himself on the back.
Here's my elaborate system of "sleep fasting": be pregnant, wake up with vomiting at 2 AM, have a five year old have a bad dream at 3:00 AM, have a toddler who wishes to share your small bed at 4:30 AM.
St. Martin de Porres and Me, on a similar sleep penance schedule. Mine even counts a little"more" because my sleep fasts aren't self-imposed, they are imposed upon me.
My Carmel teacher also reminds us constantly to fast from the little things. She says "if you're waiting for the bread in the toaster and think, I can skip buttering my bread this morning in order to help sinners: DO IT!"
As members of the universal priesthood every little fast of ours helps others. So skip the milk in your coffee. Give up using ice-cubes on a summer day. Pick up litter that you didn't lose. Every little bit helps!
For me, fasting helps me grow in the virtues of patience and gentleness. If I'm cranky because I haven't eaten lunch during a fast, it's easier to remind myself not to lose patience when my 7 year old has an extremely slow home-school session. Since I'm fasting for Christ, it's easier to remind myself mentally "don't take this out on Hannah".
All of that past fasting work has really helped now that I'm in the "involuntary" fasting part of pregnancy. My patience during bad morning sickness days and bad back-pain days is so much better because I've had practice!
I think of fasting now as purposely using my heavy cross-trainer shoes. Back when I ran track in high school, we used to use our heavy running shoes for our regular training sessions. We saved our slick, light-weight running cleats for the actual track meets. Whenever I suited up in my shiny cleats, after hours of running in dirty cross-trainers, the first 800 meters felt soft and easy.
If you want more patience during long car trips or major crying sessions in Target, use fasting to train your body to stay calm, holy and cheerful even when you're physically stressed. Purposeful fasts are the "cross-trainer" shoes of motherhood.
If you find yourself needing extra patience on the hard days of motherhood (and who doesn't) try to add a little fasting to your prayer routine: wait 15 extra minutes before taking a drink when your thirsty, eat unbuttered toast, skip dessert, fast until 5 PM on a normal Friday or (for us pregnant gals) try to cheerfully offer up our suffering during morning sickness. Every little fast helps!