Stomach awkwardly growling during a dentist appointment? Check. Bagels on the counter looking like a little piece of heaven? Check. Biting my lip in order to resist the temptation of food? Check. If you haven’t guessed it yet, week 4 for God 52 has been about fasting, with the challenge to take part in a 24 hour fast. Okay, so I’ll put my hands up straight away and say this has been tough… and from what I’ve seen on the God 52 blog, I’m not the only person who has found this one difficult… which is kind of reassuring. You only have to look at my tagline to see that I LOVE FOOD, especially peanut butter… and chocolate. mmmmmmmmmm.
So… how does someone who loves food.. or indeed anyone at all, approach something like this? Luckily, I’m not inexperienced in the world of fasting. On several occasions, I’ve taken part in fasting with my youth group, twice at an event called Slum Survivor, where a group of people get together and ‘spend a weekend the way millions spend their lifetimes’ and then once again at an event called 24:1, where members of my youth spent 24 hours in fasting and prayer. Now, I’ll start by saying that on both occasions, I failed. Slum Survivor was not a complete fast, but even when we were spending time without food, one of my Youth Leaders handed me a block of chocolate with the fear that I was about to faint.. (whoops!). Then, at 24:1.. I showed up late having just got off a plane from my holiday, armed with a bag of wine gums because I’d spent 4 hours in the air feeling like I was going to throw up.. (double whoops). So admittedly, I’ve never really got stuck into a fast properly. However, from experience, when people fast… great things happen. With that in mind I took a deep breath on the way to the Dentist when I read the challenge for this week, and decided to fully embrace fasting… you know what they say.. third (or maybe even fourth?!) time lucky!
Despite signing up to take part in fasts several times, I’ve never really understood it, and I’ve never gone it ‘alone’. I’ve always been surrounded by people going through the same thing, experiencing the same stomach pangs and (especially in the case of Slum Survivor, when the slum I was sleeping in fell on top of me in my sleep) there has always been something going on to distract me. So, straight away, this time was different. I was going it ‘alone’… and, on a day when I had no school, there was nothing to distract me apart from terrible daytime television and the building mountain of school work that I’d been trying to avoid for days.
This is where I think I made the first mistake. I’d love to sit here and tell you all that every time i’d spent my whole day in prayer.. laying everything before God and replacing my physical hunger with a desire to listen in to what he was saying, write in my journal, read my bible etc etc.. but that didn’t happen at first.. For the first 2-3 hours after I got back from the dentist, I spent my time watching Cowboy builders and catching up on school work… Every time my stomach rumbled, I would dive deeper into a textbook in an attempt to fill my head with long words rather than food. It then finally dawned on me that I was never going to survive the fast without going crazy without God.. and I rethought what I was doing and replaced the stomach rumbles with a prayer that said, ‘God, I’m hungry for you’.
At one point in the day, I was reminded of the song from Jesus Culture ‘Fill me up’ which seemed to be so appropriate to the day that I was facing. The lyrics that stuck in my head were, ‘love of God, overflow, permeate, all my soul’. The word that struck me the most was ‘permeate’… not only because I’m a keen Geographer (or so I like to think) but also because of the meaning of the word itself. The dictionary definition of permeate is ‘to spread throughout’… but when I got taught the meaning of it in GCSE Geography last year, I got the idea that it meant that something could literally ‘break through’. With that in mind, I had an awesome image of God literally breaking into my soul, not just one part of it, not just for five minutes whilst I fought off the desire for a bagel (yes.. I like bagels too) but for a lifetime. It was this image that got me through the day. I realised (and not for the first time) that when we face trials in life, we don’t do it through our own strength, but through the strength of God within us.
‘Look to the Lord and his strength, seek his face always’ – Psalm 105:4
And that leads me into my second mistake of the day.. getting it into my head that I was ‘alone’. The truth is, no matter how deserted you feel, God is always with you.. and I really felt his strength in me as I fought the urge to eat! Now.. you fitness fanatics out there in the cyber world are probably reading this wondering what all my moaning is about, wondering what is so hard about fasting for a day? I guess you may have a point. But, one thing that I learnt is that there’s a difference between fasting and finding comfort or distraction in earthly things like Jeremy Kyle and Jane Eyre, and fasting and finding refuge in God and growing closer to him as a result.
You may have noticed that I have given the entry this week the title ‘fasting and feasting’. The reason for that is because in fasting for a day, I was able to feast on God. When I called on him. he came and gave me a strong image of his faithfulness to me in the form of a Jesus Culture song (what can I say? God knows me well, and he knows how much I love JC!) Through this, I learnt more about who he was, but I also realised that I need to become more dependent on him in my daily life. It was so great to replace my desire for food with a desire for him.. but why not be more like this everyday? In the light of this, I’ve found another great quote on the web.
‘Fasting is letting go of all that is seen and temporal. Fasting helps express, deepen and confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves, to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God.’- Andrew Murray.
In those few hours, I developed a dependency on God to survive. I honestly felt like without him and his strength, I would not be able to last the day without making a cheeky sandwich or ‘sipping’ on some soup. On reflection, once again I feel challenged, and that’s the beauty of God 52. Imagine if I lived every day completely believing that I would not survive without him and his faithfulness to me? In my heart, I believe that i’m dependent on God for survival, but imagine if every day I desperately clung to him with the same hunger and desire that I felt whilst fasting. I’m not saying I’m going to fast every other day, or once a week, but if this is the way of disciplining myself to be more dependent on God, then that’s the way I’m going to do it. Forget New Year Resolutions… It’s more like a New Year Revolution.. changing my life to ‘act justly, to love mercy and walk humbly’ with my God.
Here’s to week 5. Enjoy feasting on God in the meantime!