Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Some Notes About Fasting

"Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12 "Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see." 14 So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.

15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.

17 To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds." Daniel 1:11-17

My recent fasting experience was completely eye-opening in more ways than one, and I thought it more than appropriate to talk about it, and share what I learned about fasting food directly. Because let me tell you, fasting food is a whole different ball of wax than fasting something else. In the past, I have fasted TV for 30 days, and I also fasted reading anything other than my Bible for a period of time. Both were challenging in their own right, but in both those cases, I developed some wonderful new habits. When I fasted TV, I realized that TV and the shows I watch are not as important as they seemed. If I missed a few episodes of something, my world wasn't going to come to an end. I learned that it's okay to spend time in the evening doing things other than watching TV, and overall, my crutch- my habit of watching a lot of television was completely broken. I watch so little now, it's wonderful! Fasting the fiction reading was also eye-opening, because I became aware of just how often I sit down to read something. I am back to enjoying reading fiction or magazines, or the occasional cookbook, but now, I am more conscious in my mind when I've been into something far too long, and I need to pick up my Bible instead. I notice when a day goes by and I haven't read my Bible. This is a very good thing.

But fasting food... can I just say that it was so much harder than I thought it would be? When I first determined that I would do a Daniel fast, I purposed to follow the Bible literally- vegetables and water. Then someone encouraged me and mentioned that in Hebrew, the root word for vegetable actually meant "from a seed" and when they'd done Daniel fasts before, it included grains and fruits. So I modified the vegetables just a touch. I permitted myself to eat vegetables, whole grains only (no bread, no flour), and fruit only as a condiment. (Think raisins in oatmeal, lime juice in a curry.) There were no eggs, no dairy, no meat, no sugar, no sweets, no soda, no tea. At first, it was a fun challenge though. I have plenty of experience cooking vegetarian meals, I just needed to modify them further to be vegan, and I was sure I'd be fine. But then I read this verse in the Bible:

"But King David replied to Araunah, "No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing." 1 Chronicles 21:24

In participating in the act of fasting, I was actually sacrificing my dependence on food to sustain me. I decided that in my act of fasting, it wasn't much of a sacrifice if I just swapped out cows milk for rice milk or butter for vegan butter. I needed to adhere to the veggie principle and rely on God to supply the energy I needed to get through a day, and after about the third day, I found an actual physical shift. By the third day of just vegetables and water, I have to admit I was feeling a touch shaky, and almost a little foggy- I just was having a tough time finding motivation to do anything, and that was where I found myself spending more time talking to God. I still had tasks to be done, I couldn't just shut down and fast, I also needed to be busy and I prayed that God would supply the energy I needed to get through each and every day. And after I prayed that, after I confessed my reliance on God, I physically felt better. I was no longer shaky, and I no longer felt foggy. In fact, other than the fact that my stomach pretty much never felt satiated, I would have never known that I was actually fasting.

And I began to delight in reading God's Word at meal time. In fact, I would sit down with my plate of vegetable something, and not even finish the small portion I'd served myself, because I ate as I read, and as I read, I just felt like reading the Word was filling me much more than the bowl of soup or salad was.

But the most interesting part of fasting came with the church experiences. I was sharing with someone else that I found much more open-ness on my part while I was fasting. When it came time to go to church, to worship corporately, I was more than ready and willing. I was almost desperate, and you know how when you go to church, worship starts, and sometimes it takes you a few songs to get into it? I was into it before the music even started! I walked in the building and I was already in worship mode. The worship felt more alive and vibrant, and I clung to every word that came out of the Pastor's mouth- it just seemed so much...more, I guess. And this open-ness and desperation carried over, even after the fast was done. My spirit has taken over, and I feel ready for worship, and I feel open to whatever God has to say to me almost all the time. It's different, that's the best way to describe it. It's like my spirit took notes during the fast, felt what it was like to be reliant on God, and has stayed in that frame of mind, even while my physical body moves on.

I also feel like I have to say that the last three days of the fast were definitely the hardest. My fast was for ten days, and by the eighth day, I was soooo over the vegetables. I didn't want to eat anymore! Just thinking about eating vegetables started making me nauseated, and me, the person who always thought I could swing a vegetarian lifestyle found out that I really desired the taste of a hamburger, or even a slice of cheese. And I battled those last three days. I can't tell you how many times I found myself wanting just one bite of something- and I would be sorely tempted. By the grace of God I resisted completely, and in fact, on the last day, I was so disgusted by the thought of eating vegetables, that the last day, I fasted completely, drinking just water, and eating two handfuls of air-popped butter and salt free popcorn (read:cardboard).

I would also be lying if I didn't report that day eleven was the sweetest day. I broke my fast with two eggs and blueberry pancakes, and they were so wonderful. And every bite of food I ate for the next few days, I just kept thanking God for his wondrous variety. I'm still thankful for food, for all the wonderful flavors that God has given me to put in my mouth each and every day.

And I think I learned a lot from my fasting experience. I would be lying if I didn't say that I'm dreading doing it again. It was so much harder than I thought it would be. But at the same time, the lessons I learned, the training of my spirit was so worth it, and I have to wonder what kind of results there will be from more fasting. What will my spirit learn next time? The fasting was worth it, and I definitely feel that my relationship with God is at a whole new level now, and I'm excited to see where that takes me.

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled." Matthew 5:6

I was filled indeed.

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