This year, one of my goals was to try various spiritual disciplines and practices in the hopes of identifying more ways to connect with God. I’ll tell you how each one goes. I am holding this practice loosely–it’s easy to have it become a laundry list instead of an invitation.
I also decided to make a simple Sunday fast my Lenten discipline. I’m rejoicing that the opportunity to draw near to God is as simple as this. And also that my attitude towards fasting has been so radically transformed. How? Read on.
If we’re being really literal, I’m not exactly a beginner at fasting. I’ve tried it any number of times.
Here’s the thing, though. I’ve always hated it.
I get really cranky without food. So much so that people around me—in-laws, old friends, my husband–make jokes about Jekyll and Hyde when mealtimes are delayed.
As a kid, I used to get migraines from hypoglycemia. Migraines bad enough to make me puke. I still get twitchy when I don’t have a bag of nuts in the car.
So the idea of voluntarily going without food has never appealed to me. I have only done it at times of great desperation. (Yes, first-world problem.)
And I know, I know, you can fast from things other than food, but this phobia of mine is something I’ve grown tired of. I wanted to face my fear and simply try.
So: I decided to fast every Sunday in January.
The first problem was: how long? I knew skipping breakfast would be relatively easy—but was easy good enough?
This is always the calculation I make when I approach spiritual disciplines. Easy sounds like cheating. But hard doesn’t happen.
I had a flash of insight as I considered my options, though. My attitude was false humility. My desire to do my utmost (pray for thirty minutes every day! Tithe twenty percent!) is more about my ego and less about pleasing God.
I realized my spiritual path might be paring down my grandiosity and doing the minimum as an act of obedience. I will affirm that my best is a puny offering. I will remember that the Lord talks about faith as small as a mustard seed.
So one Sunday after another, I skipped breakfast, went to church (or didn’t), came home and ate.
It didn’t feel heroic. It felt like mindfulness.
In January, I also read Walter Brueggemann’s Spirituality of the Psalms. Speaking of easy: the book is almost a pamphlet—thin and small, even if it is scholarly.
Brueggemann talks about different kinds of Psalms. Some celebrate a world where everything is orderly, where the righteous are secure, where God’s providence is clear.
And there are a whole bunch of other Psalms. Brueggemann calls them “Psalms of dislocation.”
In those, bad things happen to good people, and they cry out in agony.
In the Introduction, Brueggemann writes, “Much Christian piety and spirituality is romantic and unreal in its positiveness. As children of the Enlightenment, we have censored and selected around the voice of darkness and disorientation, seeking to go from strength to strength, from victory to victory. But such a way not only ignores the Psalms; it is a lie in terms of our experience.” (p xii)
If we avoid the dark places, the places of privation and pain, in other words, we are living an unreal life. We are shutting out the experiences that make us human.
What is hard about fasting is saying yes to this dislocation. It is saying yes to feeling weak and out-of-sorts. It is saying yes to losing the pleasure of a meal, to feeling cold.
But I found in those few hours of a grumbling stomach that it feels good to remind myself that there are great powers in my life. I affirmed God’s sovereignty in the midst of discomfort. I acknowleged the darkness and privation that happens on our planet, and trusted in God to make things right.
In that context, breakfast didn’t seem like such a big sacrifice.
By the end of January, I wasn’t afraid of fasting anymore.
In fact, I kind of liked it: It was simple. By definition, it didn’t require a bunch of doing. It also involved my body, which for someone too much in her own head is a relief. It is a spiritual discipline that I can do even with young children asking 1000 questions a minute.
My fear and perfectionism had hidden that all from me before.
It turns out that entering into a period of dislocation feels oddly good. It reminded me—very physically—that I am inadequate, that I am fragile, and that God is good regardless.
As someone prone to anxiety, who avoids discomfort because of fear, I desperately needed that message.
For more ideas of joyful, simple, post-perfectionist faith, subscribe here and get my free ebook, Dancing Back to Jesus.
Image credit: Marc Smith