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Still hungering for God

I have made it through another Friday fast and I felt similar to how I feel during a long run or race – I voluntarily put myself through something that was uncomfortable, and at times I asked myself  “Why are you doing this?” One good outcome of the fast is that I am searching the Scriptures and writings of learned people for why we are called to fast. A few observations:

“More than any other Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Christ. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface. If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately. David writes, ‘I humbled my soul with fasting’ (Ps. 69:10). Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear — if they are within us, they will surface during fasting.” Celebration Of Discipline, Richard Foster, p67

Friday morning I made a point to have time to read my devotional book and pray. I especially made a point to spend time thinking about what I needed to confess and my “secret sins”. A biggie for me is pride and pride is sneaky and takes many forms. Writing this blog can quickly become prideful and I am constantly praying that I am doing it for God’s purposes. Fasting can quickly become prideful also, so I tried very hard to be aware of that.

” Fasting is a means not only of turning away the wrath of God, but also of obtaining whatever blessings we are in need of.” John Wesley, When You Fast

Like running a marathon, going without food makes me weak and when I am weak and tired, my defenses are down and my true self comes out. I definitely had to fight being impatient and irritable as my day went on, but something else happened also. I found myself leaning on God. Just as I have prayed many times for God to help me through a difficult run, when I felt those hunger pains, I was reminded of why I was empty. It was because I was voluntarily not eating in order to be closer to God, and I asked Him to help me. He got me through.

“Fasting helps us keep our balance in life. How easily we begin to allow nonessentials to p precedence in our lives. How quickly we crave things we do not need until we are enslaved by them … Our human cravings and desires are like rivers that tend to overflow their banks; fasting helps keep them in proper channels. ‘I pommel my body and subdue it,’ says Paul (1 Cor. 9:27).” Celebration Of Discipline, Richard Foster, p68

On my run on Saturday, I thought about how I don’t seem to be doing this right – surely I should be feeling more in touch with God after making the effort to deprive myself in this way. What was the point? Then I thought of my friends who had given up sweets for Lent – surely each time they wanted a piece of chocolate they wondered what the point of it was. How does not eating a butterfinger give God glory? One part of it is the discipline. When I am running for several hours, I may not realize what is happening to my body, but it is slowly getting stronger and more used to the distance. In the same way, I am disciplining myself by saying no to food for a short time and hopefully I am growing spiritual muscle.

“Perhaps in our affluent society fasting involves a far larger sacrifice than the giving of money.Celebration Of Discipline, Richard Foster, p66

Finally, my short fasts have made me aware of all the food around me! Throughout the day I found myself reaching for something to eat out of habit. I am not a person who “forgets” to eat! Even at school I have crackers and cereal bars and peanut butter in case I get hungry. When I look around my kitchen I am appalled by the amount of food I have for just me and Keith – sometimes I don’t have room in my cabinets for all the food. Surely this is sinful. If I have gained a new awareness and compassion for those who go hungry not by choice, then the fasts have been worth it.

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Hungering for God?

Hungering for God?

I am fasting on Fridays during Lent this year. I have never fasted for  anything other than a cholesterol test in my life, so this feels like I am going into unknown and scary territory, but part of our Run For God class is about getting out of our comfort zone. Also, I am too selfish to give up sweets or meat or caffeine for 6 weeks, so this seemed easier. And it only involves missing breakfast and lunch, which seems pretty minor considering the number of people that live off of one meal a day every day all around the world.

Last week was my first Friday to start and I didn’t know what to expect. Would the heavens open up and God speak directly to me, giving me some great message to reward me for this sacrifice of not eating for half a day? Or would I simply pass out from lack of food? On Thursday I warned my coworker, Donna, that I might be grumpy on Friday because I was going to be fasting. I told her I might have to go into the “closet” to pray if I got too irritable. We started joking about going into the “closet” when things and people started getting on our nerves.

My first test came on Thursday when I was invited out to lunch on Friday – keep in mind that I work in a school and we never get to go out to lunch! Also, when people do go out, they sometimes forget to ask the media specialist, so I was very thankful to be included – then had to decline, saying that I was fasting.  I hope I didn’t sound self-righteous.

Knowing that the Devil likes to throw up stumbling blocks when we try to push ourselves spiritually, I was prepared for the day to be rough on Friday, and it did have its challenges. About a third of our 8th graders were on a trip to Savannah and part of those that chose not to go or couldn’t afford it were in the media center doing research with their teacher that day. Now we have great kids at Valley Point, but it was a Friday when half the class was off having a great time and the ones in the media center were not real thrilled to be making a brochure about going to Savannah, so they were a little rowdy. Then my new check-in scanner decided to quit working and I had to spend my entire plan time on the phone with the tech guy, not my favorite thing.

At lunchtime Donna came out of her office and told me I could go into the “closet” now, since I had said I would go pray during lunch. I went into our back room and when I tried to pray, all I could think of was that I was hungry!  I took my phone with me so that I could look at Bible verses, but felt more tempted to surf the web. I forced myself to think of things to pray about, but being still only reminded me that I had not eaten.

The rest of the day was okay, but I had a hard time focusing ( which is a struggle for me anyway!) and hurried home so that Keith and I could go out for dinner. By the time I had eaten dinner, I felt normal again and it was like I hadn’t even gone through the fast.

I started wondering what the purpose of it was supposed to be and if I had not done something wrong. I couldn’t say I felt any closer to God from skipping breakfast and lunch for one day. I might have felt less spiritual because I was a little light headed. I started looking up fasting and came across a very informative sermon by John Wesley on the subject that had been modernized in its language by Tony Capoccia . Here is a link if you are interested:

http://www.biblebb.com/files/jw-001fasting.htm

One of the things that struck me in Wesley’s sermon was how often “prayer and fasting” are mentioned in the Bible – and how we never do it! Jesus doesn’t say “if you fast” in his Sermon on the Mount, but “when you fast”. All through the Old and New testaments, people routinely fasted when big decisions needed to be made or when there was a crisis or just as part of their spiritual discipline. After Lent came along in the 900’s , people fasted every day for 40 days, eating only the evening meal! That made my one day a week seem pretty lame in comparison.

I have been a Christian all my life, attended a Southern Baptist college and seminary, worked on a church staff and as a hospital chaplain, and I have never known anyone who fasted on a regular basis. Or maybe if they did, they listened to Jesus’ admonition to “do so in secret”, something I have already blown by talking and blogging  about it!

So today begins my 2nd Friday fast, something Rev. Katie told me John Wesley did every Friday throughout his life. Since I have to go to work, I can’t spend my whole morning in prayer, but not getting my meals together will give me more time before school to pray and I will try again in the “closet” at lunchtime. Maybe I will draw closer to God this week.

Making the effort to do this reminds me of a prayer by Thomas Merton that  I heard many years ago and has so often captured my feelings when trying to do “what is right”.  Hopefully by making this small sacrifice of food for my body, the desire to please God will in fact please Him.

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