“I am doing a great work and cannot come down.” Nehemiah 6:3 (NIV)
Until I started this fast, food had never been just fuel for me; calories in, energy out, weight lost or maintained. I co-existed uneasily with food – my enemy, my comfort, inducer of guilt, and for months at a time, the only sure thing guaranteed to give me hope. Some days I used to wonder why my biceps and triceps weren’t more defined – my fork carried so much more than bite-sized pockets of goodness (or not) to my mouth!
A rigidity marked my approach to food – an all or nothing sensibility to what and how much I ate and drank at any given time. As a teen, I’d looked up the words bulimia and anorexia nervosa in my Oxford dictionary; thankful when I discovered that I hadn’t come close to the physical extremes of either disorder. The mental and emotional extremes though – I lived on those margins; I tasted them.
The Holy Spirit began to shift those margins as I fasted and continue to fast. Proof of this has been how my approach to food over the weeks and to fasting has moved from all-or-nothing to flexible freedom.
In the beginning
I began to fast every Sunday during Lent. On February 18 and into Family Day Monday, I fasted for 16 hours. It helped that my full-on flu had killed my sense of smell and therefore taste. It was easy not to eat much and to keep well within my Weight Watchers guidelines. That weekend the Scripture lesson came fast and easy: Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this… David exhorts in Psalm 37:5. He will do this! That was God’s promise and command to me about ministry and about my family.
The following week, during a time of silence, I felt prompted to adjust my fast. Not only was I to fast every Sunday by skipping supper but I also had to give up the cushioned margin that 35 – 42 weekly points gave me. Weight Watchers gives each member a number of points that they can consume during a week; points over and above their daily allotment. (To learn more, just visit weightwatchers.ca).
Until I said yes to that prompt, I didn’t realize how much I had needed to know I could reach out and eat . . . over and above my daily plates. That week, my mental chatter and physical busyness around those extra points (What should I grab now? How many extra points do I have left? Should I? Could I? I feel for . . .) died down. And in the space and silence left behind I found myself sitting in this new quiet, chewing over some Scripture for that week’s Bible study . . . all about choosing to collaborate with the work of the Holy Spirit in my life – again a command to me about ministry and about caring for family.
But that work isn’t done – nor is my fast! The first week of March saw CAS-T deciding to bring a motion to re-apprehend my nephew. By the second week in March I had made another adjustment, appropriate I felt, to the gravity of my sister’s situation. I began to do a partial fast daily . . . liquids only between breakfast and supper. Since that week, I’ve kept to that fast, breaking it only on Easter weekend as I prepared to join Baptist Women in their call to fast through April.
So what did this latest adjustment and new way of fasting teach me?
First, I love soups (especially those thin pureed roasted-vegetable soups you drink steaming hot out of a favourite mug on a cold afternoon). I could live on black coffee. I don’t like water. I never have and never will, sparkling varieties aside.
Second, love, joy, peace, gentleness, kindness and patience is the Holy Spirit’s fruit and evidence of supernatural photosynthesis; not the result of a series of perfectly-timed days where no meals are missed, snacks are balanced and sugar consumption is minimal. Food isn’t God’s holy. God is and He calls me to have an appetite first . . . for Him.
Third, my hunger is about hope and about grief; hope that God is and will do all that His story shows me; grief because life is what it is and sometimes I find it too hard to look up and beyond my own understanding and need for agency and control. These daily timed liquid fasts help me look up and beyond . . . to pay attention to Jesus – present and near. In fact, the new margin I’ve begun to savour is the margin of trust. And trust is a different kind of food isn’t it.