Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. According to some tradition somewhere, which some Christians follow, you're only supposed to eat one meal on Ash Wednesday. You are allowed to eat two small meals if necessary for the strength to do your day's work, but even so, this is a concession, and the two small meals combined must be no larger than the one big meal.
I tried to follow this rule yesterday. After a full day's work, I was very hungry. As I walked along the icy sidewalks (not toward home, mind you--but toward the library, to do more work, this time proofreading), I thought to myself:
The one comment on fasting I've heard from numerous people is how much time it frees up. I don't know that I've ever heard anyone talk about how it deepens their spiritual life, or how they learn from it and grow as persons, but I have often heard people say "It's amazing how much time I normally spend on planning, making and eating meals!" True as that may be, I don't think it does justice to the purpose of fasting.
Fasting is one way we can choose to suffer. Character is the ability to choose suffering over comfort. Sometimes the right thing to do means discomfort. Like Brandon quitting his job. We both knew it meant we'd have to put off buying another car, and that we'd be anxious about having money to pay for our next cross-country trip--or, heck! money for paying the rent and heating bills. But the company he worked for was making its money through dishonest means. So, basically, we have to trust in God's provision for us.
Being able, as in that case, to choose the discomfort of a car that doesn't work so well in the winter, not turning the thermostat above 55 degrees, and not knowing how we're going to make it to California this Fall, or make ends meet even before then--as I say, being able to choose those unpleasantries means freedom. It means we are not controlled by our desire for comfort and security.
So, I suppose fasting can help a person to cultivate an attitude that is not comfort-seeking, but always ready and willing to choose discomfort, or even pain, if it be God's will.