Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
A few years ago I went to ask a blessing from a dear priest and he said, "You smile much, you must struggle much." When we fast we are told to do it in secret and not as the Pharisees, who made sure everyone knew by their drawn faces. Instead we are to wash our faces and put oil on our heads. I always thought of this for physical fasting from food, but I think it pertains to the fasting we do from sorrow, despair, anger and annoyance.
I would bet there are very few mothers out there who are never frustrated or overwhelmed. Watching your child write with orange marker on a freshly painted wall or cut off all her hair the day before Easter so she looked like a cancer patient or going to wake up your children only to find they had been awake for some time and were happily painting the entire downstairs, including the carpet, the day after the carpets were cleaned, can certainly tempt us toward anger and frustration. Looking at a dwindling bank account knowing that bills may not get paid or watching our children make poor choices can tempt us toward despair. But God calls us to give of ourselves through prayer and fasting.
One of my FAVORITE parts from Little Women is when Marmee shares an encouraging secret with Jo. “I am angry nearly every day of my life, Jo; but I have learned not to show it; and I still hope to learn not to feel it, though it may take me another forty years to do so.” Although she is a fictional mama, her disclosure resonates with most of us. Life is hard but God is good. Each time we choose not to indulge in the deadly fruits of anger, sorrow, despair we are participating in a spiritual fast that will bear good fruit from which we are permitted to freely enjoy.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
Take note that mingled within the satisfying spiritual fruit of love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control is the fruit of longsuffering. There is a joyfulness in choosing to partake of the sufferings of Christ. Let us deliberately fast from anger and despair, for our smiles and kindness are a sacrificial offering to Christ when we feel discouraged and overwhelmed.
Fasting appears gloomy until one steps into its arena. But begin and you will see what light it brings after darkness, what freedom from bonds, what release after a burdensome life… -Saint Theophan the Recluse