There are friends we have "In Real Life" and others that we've only met online. In my world, Asheritah falls into the latter category. While I look forward to the day we meet together in a literal Living Room, (hers, mine, or the one that awaits in glory) today I get to welcome her into our virtual Living Room. I know you'll be blessed to hear of her journey, learning to fast.
I'm no stranger to fasting.
Growing up in a Romanian Baptist missionary family, we fasted when we needed God to take our prayer requests more seriously. In high school, I fasted from all food every Tuesday for two years, ignoring my anemia and my mother's concern because I was convinced that spiritual growth would only come to those who fast.
But I was doing it wrong.
Every time I fasted, I'd pretend I wasn't really hungry, telling myself that if I really loved God I shouldn't care if I ate or not. Though I tried to pray and read during my lunch hour, I was so distracted by thoughts of food that I couldn't focus. And wouldn't you know it, potlucks always happened on Tuesday, too! It seemed like the universe was conspiring against me.
So I gave up fasting altogether.
For four years, I didn't fast except for the annual Good Friday fast. Then, in college, I experimented with different sorts of fasting during Lent: I gave up meat one year, Facebook another, and sugar yet another year. And while those fasts taught me a lot about myself, my struggles, and my serious food addiction, they didn't draw me closer to God.
Stuffed with Good Gifts
It came as a surprise when my New Year quest to deal with my sugar tooth collided with my apathy toward God. Frankly, I didn't see the connection.
But as I searched Scripture verses to help me overcome my food addiction, God opened my eyes to see that I had been using food (specifically sweets) to curb the longings that should drive me straight to God. I wasn't hungering for God because I was satisfied with His gifts.
I picked up John Piper's book, A Hunger for God (which heavily influenced this post and my whole perspective on fasting), and was struck by his challenging words:
If you don't feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the wold. Your soul is stuffed with small things and there is no room for the great. - John Piper
That hit me like a slap across the face. I didn't desire God because I ran to food instead. And fasting from food didn't help because I used it to impress God with my spirituality, to spiritualize healthy eating, and, if I'm being completely honest, to show myself just how disciplined I could be.
For the first two months of 2015, I still struggled with my food addiction because I tenaciously refused to look at any food as "bad." If God gave it to us, we should enjoy it, right? But as Piper goes on to say,
In the heart of the saint, both eating and fasting are worship. Both magnify Christ. Both send the heart--grateful and yearning--to the Giver. Each has its appointed place, and each has its danger. The danger of eating is that we fall in love with the gift; the danger of fasting is that we belittle the gift and glory in our willpower. - John Piper
I had fallen in both of extremes, turning to food as my comfort as well as priding myself in how many hours I can go without eating. And in both cases, I missed the point: Jesus invites us to deny ourselves the pleasures of this world and feast on Him instead.
Turning Fasting Into Feasting
Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights before He began His public ministry (Matthew 4:1-11). It's a passage worth prayerfully reading and studying as you embark on this sugar fast. Mirroring Israel's 40-year wandering in the desert, Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness and let him be hungry that He might test Him to see what was in His heart (Deuteronomy 8:2). Fasting is God's testing ground--it reveals the things that control us and the things in which we find the most satisfaction.
And it's in fasting that we recognize whether we rely on food or on God. That's what Jesus meant when He replied to Satan's invitation to turn stone into bread: "Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). It wasn't an issue of eating or not eating; Jesus was pressing the issue of what He desired more than food, and that is God. Our souls were made to crave God, not food.
What I was missing all those years of fasting was a hunger for God. Instead of allowing my physical hunger to drive me to my knees in worship and confession, I tried to ignore it, willing myself to overcome temptation. But I was missing the point.
The point of fasting isn't just to fast from food; the point of fasting is to feast on God. Every time we fast we proclaim, with Jesus, "I live not by bread alone (or chocolate, or ice cream, or my skinny dolce latte) but by You, Lord. Even if I never again taste my favorite treat, I will be happy and fulfilled in You!"
Focusing on the One Who Satisfies
Fasting is still a struggle for me. But I've found that when I arm myself with the Word of God, I can recognize the gifts that seduce my soul and turn my attention back to God.
I've posted verses on my refrigerator door, in my pantry, next to my bed, and on my iPhone wallpaper to remind myself to feast on the Bread of Life. And slowly, ever so slowly, sugar's grip is loosening its hold on me as I choose instead to delight in God.
My appetite for God has awakened, and I'm more eager to spend time in prayer and worship than I was before. While my brain might still be foggy from the sugar detox, my soul is soaring to God's throne room. I'm finding that His presence sustains me when I face sorrow or disappointment; He handles my emotional highs and lows, giving me grace and mercy, joy and strength, things that can never be found in a candy bar.
He is everything I need, and I realize that when He is all I have.
As you fast, keep your heart and mind focused not on what you're giving up but on what you're gaining. Take captive those thoughts of donuts and salted caramel truffles to drive you to your knees and declare, "This much, o Lord, I want You! As my body craves sugar and my mind is consumed with thoughts of food, I want my heart to be consumed by a hunger for You!"
And as we pray and fast and meditate on Jesus, we will learn to feast on God. He will draw near to us as we draw near to Him, and we will find our true delight in the Lover of our souls. A pleasure no sugar rush could ever match.
Asheritah helps overwhelmed women find joy in Jesus on her blog and through her books & art. She welcomes old and new friends to OneThingAlone.com to share a cup of tea and together pursue real intimacy with Jesus.