Fasting without an Agenda
I’ve never been a fan of fasting. For one thing, following my two previous attempts at fasting, I did not come away feeling like a more disciplined Christian, just a hungry and grumpy one. Second, I’m already a fairly disciplined person when I need to be, so do I really need to fast? Third, the benefit of fasting has never been very clear to me. It’s a fuzzy sort of God-said-to-do-it-so-I-will sort of thing. Basically, I did it because that’s what good Christians are supposed to do.
Upon further reflection, I realized that I had been fasting out of obligation, not purpose. Recently, while reading my daily devotional, the thought of prayer and fasting came to mind. I asked Jesus, “Why?” The response was, “Try.” Sure, let’s do this, I replied.
Since I’m not a regular faster, I decided to do the following: fast from sun-up to sun-down, no food, just my morning coffee and water; take a ten-minute break every hour or so to pray; and spend rest of the day in quiet, non-physical activities. I made a list of things I could do for the day but only if they didn’t interfere with my prayer time. I anticipated an uneventful day of moments with Jesus and me frequently gritting my teeth every time I thought about food. Brother, was I wrong!
After an hour of tidying up my desk, I settled down for my first ten-minute session of prayer. I was led to reflect on following Christ with child-like obedience. That meant not questioning why I was doing this fast nor where it might lead. So, I gave it the Nike “Just Do It!” and spent the rest of my ten minutes reaffirming that I would go through with this fast, no matter what my flesh might otherwise suggest.
I continued the day in “blind” obedience, trusting Jesus to lead me. I asked Him to use this day to teach me whatever lesson He had for me and promised to do my best, but made sure to mention that He should not to expect too much out of me. After all, I was new at this, but I agreed to follow if He would lead me. Then I had a glass of water.
During my next ten-minute prayer time, I realized this was a great opportunity to spend time in peace with Jesus throughout the day, not because I had people to pray for but simply to relish time with Him, like sitting with an old friend. I thought about what a blessing it was to be able to not only spend this time with the Lord but to know he was spending it with me. All I asked was that He help me not let myself get distracted with a mental list of what I would do tomorrow. Then I had another glass of water.
I turned on the TV to watch the weather and kept it on to watch some of the news until I could feel it altering my state of peacefulness. So much of it was negative, with open-ended troubles that I have no control over. Despair was seeping into my state of calm, so I turned it off. I thanked Jesus for the state of calm that I was being allowed to live in today.
My next prayer session began with an appreciation for relative quiet and, again, Jesus’s presence with me during my quest. I knew I wasn’t doing this alone, He was guiding my choices. Sitting and waiting, I chose to trust that He was using this time to bring me closer to him. I was comforted by the thought that I didn’t need to know what the outcome would be. My part in all of this was to trust and wait. I had another glass of water. It was even better than the last two.
Maybe it was the quiet or maybe it was not letting myself think about the food that I would prepare for my lunch and dinner. But my thinking was clearer. Rather than rush through a list of things to accomplish for the day, I focused on each task as I did it, not thinking about what would come next. My ultimate goal was to fast and pray, nothing else mattered. I could just sit and pet my dog all day in between praying times and that would be okay.
As the time passed, I felt my mind open to a more relaxed state of being. I can’t describe how freeing it was to have that single, important goal and not need to concern myself with what would come next—so do-able, so significant, so simple. My brain felt so un-cluttered and calm. I could pray with a level of clarity that I rarely ever achieve.
As I sat with my eyes closed, in prayer, I became acutely aware of the sounds around me. Sounds from nature, mechanical sounds, people sounds. I realized that virtually all sound is the result of friction, things rubbing together, vibrating, hitting other things. That’s what noise is. When I shut out the noise, I’m shutting out friction, all kinds of friction. And the space left open is filled with feeling the peace of the Lord.
By sundown and many glasses of water later, I didn’t feel the need to rush to the kitchen and eat. I felt calm, mentally cleansed, but most importantly, I felt a profound closeness to Jesus, having spent a whole day in peace with him as my guide. I now understand how spending a quiet day in a fast with Him is a necessary part of being a practicing Christian. I understand how a day of peaceful fasting brings clarity when making an important decision or solving a problem. To remove oneself from the non-spiritual world for a day brings a new perspective of what’s important. My stomach was empty but my soul was filled to overflowing with love when I created the space for it.
But the biggest benefit was the utter kinship I felt with Christ. Knowing he was there to make me stronger when I needed Him to be is a lesson that I will not forget. It wasn’t about my strength, it was about depending on his. And miraculously, I’m actually looking forward to my next fast!