Lent: From Fast Food to Fasting from Food

11:52 AMHeather

Lent.  For those of you who also grew up in a traditional Southern Baptist upbringing, the word lent is mysterious and exotic.  You don't know too much about it except that your Catholic friends only ate fish on Fridays so the school cafeteria had a distinct aroma on those days.  As an adult, I've realized how unfortunate I am to have missed out on some rituals and practices of other denominations because they are full of meaning and significance.  

Lent is about fasting.  Fasting from something--giving something up during that period leading up to the celebration of our Savior who gave it all up, just for us.

Fasting, too, is about as mystical to me as the word Lent.  Until recently, not something I knew much about.  Besides the kind of required fast before a surgery or medical exam.  You know, when you drink yucky liquids only and maybe some jello, but not certain colors of jello because that's a problem when it comes to modern medical technology.  But, I must tell you, as I dip into the waters of a voluntary fast for spiritual reasons, I have a feeling I've been missing out.  

Here's what I've been learning, thanks to my recent adventures as a "7-er" (i.e.  reader of Jen Hatmaker's book 7 and one who is diving in to it's suggestions).  Fasting was, as I knew, a Biblical practice.  A spiritual discipline practiced throughout the Bible for various reasons.  These include worship, preparation, repentance, mourning, inquiry, and crisis.  In other words, during certain circumstances, fasting was a way to connect with God with various matters of the heart.  To offer a sacrifice of repentance or praise.  To focus more clearly through self-discipline in order to position yourself to hear from God.  Up to now, I gotta say that fasting to me sorta fell into the category of things like offering animal sacrifices.  So. Outdated.  That's just so Old Testament.  

Besides, I'm a migraine patient.  I can't skip meals.  

A-hem.  Do I have a lot to learn.  Which I am entangled now in the process of doing.  You see, fasting doesn't just mean abstaining from food and only having liquids.  Fasting is also NOT about legalism and rules.  No, fasting is about self-denial and practicing discipline as a means to pursue God more intensely.  Fasting is the fine art of saying that you are willing to set aside things that matter to you in order to make room for the One who should matter the most.  

Fasting can be about a liquid diet for a short period of time.  Or abstaining from certain foods--say fast food for instance.  Or sodas.  Or whatever you prayerfully determine to be a vice and habit that could distract you from God.  Because it has become something you depend on.  A dependence and allegiance that God always wishes to replace with Himself.    

Fasting can be about avoiding television.  Or wasteful spending.  Or eating out altogether.  Or practicing the Sabbath with rest and clear margins on the calendar. 

I'm not too far into this whole thing.  In fact, I feel a bit like I am doing the Cliff notes version of The 7 Experiment as I dive into the 9 week Bible study.  Which includes 7 weeks of fasting, one week per each of the 7 categories.  Yet, I am also on The Council of some ladies doing the full on 7 months, one month per each of the 7 categories.  See?  I'm a cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater--except during the food week.  I'm not sure pumpkin was on my approved list?
Lest I muddy the waters here, let me be clear.  Fasting is not about some practice to gain others' admiration or to appear Super Spiritual.  And that's not my heart at all.  Fasting is about checking your motivations.  Choosing to engage in a practice of self-discipline because your heart wants more of Him and less of you.  You want to clear space for Him to show up.  It's not about dieting and it's not just about living more simply.  No, it's so much more than that.

It's coming to the altar of God and laying your own habits, excess, comforts, and desires down.  It's saying, "I'm willing!  I'm willing to do the hard work and to be uncomfortable because I want to take up my cross daily--in a more deliberate way!  Where I abstain is where I invite you to fill me up!  Here I am.  Here are my habits I'm laying aside.  Make me more aware.  Here I am.  Send me!"  It's choosing to be like Samuel who heard the Lord calling the night.  And so he responded with a willingness to be available for whatever God might do.  

Just one week in to my fasting journey, I've learned a few things.  This last week, I chose 7 things to eat.  And that was all I ate--fruits, vegetables, poultry, etc.  I didn't think the food week would be hard.  Boy, was I wrong. So, I offer these insights to you as encouragement.  And to be transparent.  To all the 7'ers I know who are taking up this journey.  To all those who've never considered fasting.  To those who simply eat fish on Fridays.  

I am a big old wimp.  I like what I like when I want it.  I was shamefully full of self-pity and "woe is me" attitude.  Poor me, I can't eat sweets.  Feel bad for me--I can't drink my nightly tea with sugar and milk.  Like a ridiculous little baby.  So busy complaining about what I had CHOSEN to deny myself that I realized in those moments just how much my comfort and agenda can interfere where God wants me to be willing to get out of my own way.

I am so spoiled.  The first day, I made some kale chips.  I had promised my oldest a trip to Whataburger upon completion of his cross country season.  I knew that the smell of those fries would be my undoing.  So I made kale chips with sea salt and Phil's cajun seasoning from Duck Commander.  I placed my pitiful green leafy snack in a tupperware and took it with me as I grabbed Collin to fulfill my promise.  He looked at the kale chips and made a face. 
"What is THAT?"  

I replied, "Oh, my kale chips."  And I may or may not have added something like, "feel sorry for me as I eat these while you devour your fries and double cheeseburger."

BOOM.  As I drove him on to youth group, I realized how incredibly much I have to learn.  How far I have to go.  Because in the world as we know it, I am the french fry and cheeseburger eating rich American Christian while millions--actually billions--around the world wish they had something to munch on as yummy and nutritious as kale chips.   This is part of what I hope to gain in this exercise of fasting.  To grain fresh insight into my abundance and excess and blessings.  And to be moved to action.  To have open eyes to the plight of others and to do something about it.   Indeed, the goal of gratitude as my word for 2013 seems to be taking me on a journey through having a broken heart for the suffering--to have my heart broken for what breaks His. Who knew?

I also learned just how much I "go" to food.  I've long considered food to be a necessity for me more than an indulgence.  Food intolerances make eating a chore at times, as I work around them.  What I didn't realize was just how much comfort I gain from my daily rituals.  I go to food as a "treat" or reward during certain parts of the day.  I sit and work on my computer and keep food handy to munch on.  Not so much because I'm hungry--but more to satisfy myself.  My nightly sweet tooth serves the same purpose.  To bring me satisfaction.  Now, in and of themselves, these things aren't evil or sinful at all, necessarily.  But, I never before realized just how much I might run to food (and certainly other things) for comfort and satisfaction and completely miss how God might wish to satisfy me.  Just how much God might be beckoning me with a whisper of, "Taste and see that the LORD is good!" 

Yep, the surest way to realize your dependence on something is to be denied that something.  And it can be eye opening about some spaces in your heart and mind and emotions that you have been holding onto as your own.  When really, God wants to invade them all.  

So far, here's the best bit of wisdom I'm learning from fasting.  Fasting is a difficult, challenging, and rewarding spiritual discipline.  It forces your hand to acknowledge your blessings and distractions.  It presses you to be disciplined.  It begs this question of you.  How much are you really willing to release and let go of for the sake of gaining more of Him?  

And the most amazing thing of all that I saw this last week.  Fasting is like turning down the white noise in your life.  It's as though you sit at a table with your God partaking in the meal of life.  All the while, you sit with your smart phone, checking emails or Facebook, only half listening to whatever conversation might be going on.  God speaks, and you reply with an occasional, "a-haYes, I see."  But, fasting forces you to put aside the distractions.  To set aside that smart phone and look God square in the eye.  To quiet the background noise around you and to really, fully engage and connect with God.  I have a feeling that this journey of fasting will include some remarkable things that I never would hear otherwise.  I'm listening, God!  Make me hungry for You.  Help me thirst for You.  Satisfy me in ways that no chocolate ever could.      

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