Thursday, February 20, 2014

What a fast feels like

Do you fast? If so, how - or why? 

Scripture instructs us to do most disciplines in private. However, sometimes it's good to know what we can expect during those disciplines. In a country of food overabundance, fasting food is considered difficult and even impossible.

As Lent approaches, many of us may consider leaving out something in our routines. Food fasting is not impossible, but it can be difficult at times. Here are some insights from a recent 3-day food and tea fast:

Day 1: I'm hungry and looking away from food all day. This is the day of distractions. I purposefully must find things to do, reminding myself of the importance of the discipline. This fast was in conjunction with my breath-prayer: O Lord, free me to love you. The fast's purpose - freedom from the love of food to love Christ more - helped me through the day.
Day 2: I feel nauseated, cold, and have headaches as my body detoxes. I plan work that requires focus on this day. My walk seems longer, the air fresher, and the rain soothing on my face. My thinking is a bit clouded.
Day 3: Today requires mental stamina and determination; my early morning checklist develops clarity and direction about what I need to do. I wake up dizzy and cold. After a few glasses of water, my stomach settles down and my dizziness diminishes. A low-grade headache persists. I'm really hungry, but knowing I'm going to eat supper helps. (I start a fast after supper and return to eating at supper on Day 3 = 72+ hours total.) I have to run some errands, which helps pass the final longest hours.

A funny sign on the side of a building
we walked by in Baltimore
Afterwards, it's a relief to eat again. My legs ache for a day or two and I don't have energy for long walks. Gradually things return to normal.

I'm hungry, but my eating and tea intake comes under control. I gained 10 lbs last year, 5 of them on our eat-the-best-food-ever! binge in Switzerland at Christmas. I couldn't shed those pounds: my continual craving for food - especially sweets - needed resetting.

I learned at least 10 things from my
latest fast:
  1. Fasting is a progressive discipline. You decide, then you determine to do it, then you do it. At any point, if the discipline breaks down, you'll cave in to the craving for food.
  2. Fasting is hard work. Our bodies protest the change of pace. Our minds try to fend off hunger and food preparation. Our spirits feel deprived unless they are filled with grace by spending mealtimes with God. Emotions roller-coaster from highs to lows and back. Initially, fasting is an unpleasant chore.
  3. Fasting requires rerouting our habits. Our days are regulated around meals and food. We start with breakfast and may pause for a mid-morning snack. We sip a cup of coffee or tea at our desks. We break for lunch. Later, we eat supper with friends or family. Those of us at home cook and plan the rhythms of the day or evening around the table.
  4. Fasting points out longings that are excessive or unhealthy. In my case, my worst physical craving was for tea. I counted 11 teabag wrappers in the catch-bowl by our kettle. I'd had that many 14-16 oz cups of tea in two days, not including 3 teas drunk away from home. I was shocked. That's too much and became the catalyst for examining my food intake. I wanted to know if there was something behind my need to hold a cup of tea. What comfort? What provision? What habits did it reveal?
  5. Fasting requires focus and redirection. My spiritual craving is to know God, to follow him beyond the routines of eating and drinking. My mind was scattered; I had to willfully redirect my mind to a to-do checklist because my thinking was fuzzy. Without clear goals - seeking God and accomplishing work at home (thinking through the agenda for a meeting, writing mission newsletter and an article), public meetings that followed would have been less effective.
  6. Fasting is more than a physical deprivation. It reminds me that my appetites serve me; I do not serve them. Food fasting frees up time and mental space: when you don't eat, you don't have to decide what you're hungry for, hunt up a restaurant or prepare meals, or spend time eating. 
  7. Fasting is detoxing. You're more aware of your surroundings in the smells, textures, sounds, and sights. The physical symptoms - which may include hunger, nausea, bad breath, headaches, dizziness, or feeling cold - are a reminder that the body is cleansing itself. I drink only filtered water (and during other fasts, herbal teas) which help process the toxins.
  8. Fasting bring spiritual focus. If you offer your fast to God, he comes near to you. Not every fast is a spiritual high. Sometimes it's slogging hard work, like crossing a desert rather than refreshing one's self at a riverbank. Sometimes it's pure joy, offering up food to God as a sacrifice of praise.
  9. Fasting can be creative. Not every fast is food-related. You can fast from addictions like TV, novels, computer games, or compulsively being with/out people. Listen to hear what God would like you to give to him for a day or longer. Then listen for what you want to accomplish: intercession for others? refocusing self on God's will? direction for the future? Keep that focus in mind, whatever the fast requires you to give up.
  10. Fasting is rewarding. After a fast, you know you can go without. You have given yourself space to meet with God. That challenge you're facing? It may feel less daunting after you've persevered through a fast. If you've focused on hearing God's voice during the fast, you may receive clarity about priorities, how to proceed, and expected outcomes for your next tasks. 
Have you fasted? If so, what did you give up? What did you learn from your fast/s?

Read more:
*Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him. Deuteronomy 30:19,20 ESV

*Yet I planted you as a choice vine, from the purest stock. How then did you turn degenerate and become a wild vine? Jeremiah 2:21 ESV

*Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Joel 2:32 ESV

*Jesus says, "Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you." John 16:23 ESV

*For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:37-39 NIV

*Paul wrote: I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel. Galatians 1:6 ESV

Moravian Prayer: Loving Savior, you know that too often we stray from the way you would have us to go. We confess that we follow things of the world; we fail to seek your will for us; we do not do the things we know to do. Lord, we ask your forgiveness. Give us strength to live as you would have us live. 

Merciful God, we know that we sin and that we are in need of your saving grace. Thank you for reaching out when we call upon you. Draw us closer to you, and may we joyfully serve you. Amen.


  1. Every time I fast, I am aware of heart-work He is doing in me - and I know that many good things are taking place in my life - things that I do not yet fully realize. Thanks for writing.

  2. It's quite amazing how different each fast can be. We put ourselves under God's care at those times.