Curb Your Appetite

As the day began, I didn’t intend to fast.

Hustling the kids off to school, I rushed out the door to meet a friend for coffee and conversation. Heading on to work, I realized I hadn’t packed lunch. “It’s Ash Wednesday,” the Spirit nudged. “Do without. Spend time with me.”

One of the spiritual practices ideas I’d provided for our church included skipping a meal and spending time in prayer. I hadn’t thought God would mean it for me. Apparently He did.

When I was more directly involved in leading youth ministries, I used to fast once a year for World Vision‘s 30 Hour Famine. Adults and students together raised support for World Vision’s work around the world and then went without food for 30 hours while we also engaged in learning and service activities. We broke the fast with a simple meal together and communion. It was one of my favorite ministry events of the year.

More recently I have taken on different kinds of fasts during Lent, giving up sweets or alcohol or Facebook. But not food, because I like food and one of my primary Mom-jobs is providing food for my guys.

So yes, I was surprised that God called me back to a food fast, albeit a pretty short one. I skipped lunch on Ash Wednesday. Just long enough to feel hungry and pray instead of eat.

7 - a great book on what fasting can look like

7 – a great book on what fasting can look like

Jen Hatmaker defines a fast this way: “…an intentional reduction, a deliberate abstinence to summon God’s movement in my life. A fast creates margin for God to move. Temporarily changing our routine of comfort jars us off high center” (7: an experimental mutiny against excess, p4).

I wasn’t fasting to ask God to move mountains. I fasted because I felt like God asked me to and I want to listen and obey.

All in all the day went surprisingly well. In our staff meeting devotion, during prayer time, honestly, Jesus and I got close. Like the end of An Affair to Remember, when the lovers realize their separation has mostly been a misunderstanding (not that sin is a misunderstanding, but go with me) and they fall into each other’s arms, embracing and mushy-gushy kissing, that was me and Jesus. We’re having a steamy affair. It’s hot.

Typically, fasting is supposed to be “in secret” (Matthew 6:16-18) but my stomach dramatically declared its emptiness to two co-workers who giggled. Oh well. Extra temptation presented itself when Guy called to offer me take-out from one of my favorite local joints. Ouch, but no thanks.

What surprised me most were the conversations God and I had throughout the day. Hatmaker quotes Richard Rohr: “The point of emptiness is to get ourselves out of the way so that Christ can fill us up” (7, p43). Earlier in the week I had solidified Psalm 46:10 in my memory: “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” When I got hungry I repeated those words to still myself before God so He could fill me up.

Each time I prayed, I became extremely conscious of my physical body. On the one hand that makes perfect sense: I denied my body the food it wanted and I felt it. But this was different. I have at best an uncomfortable relationship with the physical shell that houses my mind/spirit, but instead of feeling the usual criticism, God impressed upon me that He gave me my body as His gift to me. I know that to be true, but I don’t always feel it. That day I felt it, and it was good.

I might even try fasting again this Lent, but I’m not telling.

One more thing: the gal who read Scripture in church this morning mispronounced “stones” in the following passage as “stories.” Go ahead, read it both ways.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones [stories] to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:1-4)

She went back and corrected her mistake, but I think it was a divine mispronunciation. Yes, Lord, may these stories become bread, the stories of Scripture and the stories of our lives. A final Hatmaker quote: “Our stories affect one another whether we know it or not. Sometimes obedience isn’t for us at all, but for another. …the story of God’s people comprises a billion little moments when an average believer pressed on, carried through, stepped up” (7, p114).

So here we go, people, pressing on, carrying through, stepping up, and along the way, sharing our stories of God’s faithfulness. Amen!

Connect
Reflect on an experience when you denied yourself something you really wanted.

Study
Read Matthew 4:1-4.
How did God’s Word sustain Jesus in the desert? How is this like/unlike the sustenance of food?
Read Matthew 6:16-18.
What does Jesus expect His followers to do/not do when they fast, and why?
Read Isaiah 58:3-7.
What was wrong with the way the people approached fasting (vv. 3-5)?
What do vv. 6-7 mean? Is this a different kind of fasting or fasting with a different attitude or outcome?

Live
How is fasting different from dieting?
Reflect on your past experiences (if any) with fasting.
How does fasting focus your prayers and help you to seek God’s face?
What practical considerations would you need to take into account in order to implement a discipline of fasting?
Which Faith Training Exercises might God call you to this week, and why? Reflect on joys and struggles with any Faith Training Exercises you’ve tried so far.
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that God will use your spiritual training to make you fit in new ways for Christ.

Faith Training

A few sessions of childhood swim, ice skating, dance, gymnastics, and tennis lessons hardly qualify me as an athlete. I may be the only person you know who has never participated in a team/competitive sport. I once asked my parents if I could join a soccer league. My mom said no, citing scarred knees as unattractive on a girl; I’m pretty sure it had more to do with life’s chaos – me as the oldest of four kids, her job in real estate, and her travelling husband, last thing she needed was to spend hours field-side with a decidedly non-athletic kid.

I did, however, take piano lessons from age five to eighteen. Like most kids enrolled in music lessons, I didn’t love to practice but I did like to play well. The older I got, and the better I got, the more I enjoyed it. In high school and especially as I anticipated a recital date, I played for hours, working the music into my fingers, into my heart and soul. My favorite practice time (surprisingly, my parents didn’t complain – how did they not complain?) took place between 10pm and 2am, even on school nights.

The more I practiced and the better I knew a piece of music, the more the music had the power to take me out of myself, into what Madeleine L’Engle calls a kairos experience. I lost track of time, I lost my sense of self, as the music itself became all that mattered. “I am outside time, outside self, in play, in joy. When we can play with the unself-conscious concentration of a child, this is: art: prayer: love” (Circle of Quiet, p13).

I’ve heard runners talk about a similar experience, once you move past the first phase of muscle fatigue (the “I don’t like to run, I don’t want to run, I can’t take one more step” feeling, because you keep going anyway), and then, apparently, some get to a euphoric state, a runner’s endorphin high.

Faith training can have similar results, yet even better as training our faith helps us to draw near to God on high.

At the gym there are so many different pieces of equipment, each with a different purpose but all with the purpose of increased physical fitness. Similarly, there are many different ways to exercise one’s faith, all with the purpose of drawing near to our beloved Jesus.

Commonly called “spiritual disciplines,” well, that just doesn’t sound all that fun, does it? But they can be. Even when they’re strenuous, they can lead to great joy.

Today is Ash Wednesday, a day focused on repentance and identifying with Jesus in His sufferings as we begin a 40-day season of giving up or taking on spiritual disciplines. In our church staff meeting this morning, we read this:

“Even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love… Joel 2:12-13

I get that today’s focus should center on fasting, weeping, and mourning, but I’ve been thinking about and practicing to varying degrees different disciplines over the last few weeks. I have returned to the Lord, so to speak, and this morning I felt overwhelming joy. God drew my focus to His gracious, compassionate, slow-to-anger love. And the joy bubbling up in my heart. I almost giggled (inappropriately?).

Once a week or so during this Lenten season, from now til Easter, I will post a Bible study focused on one spiritual discipline; there are more disciplines than we can name, but we’ll cover fasting, solitude, prayer, simplicity, confession, and celebration. I’ll also include suggestions for practicing each discipline.

I encourage you to ask God to direct you to the exercises He’d like you to try. And don’t give up just because it’s uncomfortable at first (think sore muscles after physical exercise). You could try one exercise for all of Lent, or different ways of exercising one practice (i.e., different prayer method each day), or sample different practices throughout the season – ask God for direction and stick with it until He asks you to stop.

Here we go with an introductory study!

Connect
What practices or routines do you do to keep physically healthy?

Study
Read aloud 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.
How would you explain the metaphor of physical and spiritual training to someone who hadn’t read this passage?
What is “the prize” for spiritual runners (v. 24)?
What might “running aimlessly” look like in one’s spiritual life?
How could Paul have been “disqualified for the prize” (v. 27)?

Live
On a spectrum from aimless running/air boxing to marathon champion, which physical activity might describe your spiritual life and why?
When have you experienced a connection between physical and spiritual discipline?
Reflect on your experience with any of these practices: fasting, solitude, prayer, simplicity, confession, and celebration. Which do/don’t sound appealing to you, and why?
Which of the Week 1 Faith Training Exercises (see below) might God call you to, and why?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that God will use your spiritual training to make you fit in new ways for Christ.

Faith Training Exercises
Fasting: Skip one meal and spend time in prayer.
Solitude: Memorize Psalm 46:10 and use it as a reminder throughout the day to be still before God.
Prayer: Set aside a regular time and place to pray every day.
Simplicity: Set a timer (20 minutes or less) and clear off one cluttered space, e.g., a junk drawer or desk top.
Confession: Invite the Holy Spirit to bring to mind sins you’ve committed. Confess them to the Lord and ask for His forgiveness.
Celebration: Do at least one thing each day that brings you joy: sing loudly, dance freely, laugh heartily, live boldly.

Fat Tuesday

I didn’t grow up in a church that observed a Lenten tradition. As an adult, however, I have come to appreciate the tradition of giving up or taking on spiritual practices as a way of drawing near to Jesus.

I came to Fat Tuesday even later, and mostly because I like to cook.

Mardi Gras means Fat Tuesday in French. Fat Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday; Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent. So Fat Tuesday is the final hip-hip-hurrah Day of Indulgence before one abstains for 40 days until Easter.

I’ve seen Facebook posts today about pancakes and just learned why: pancakes are a traditional Mardi Gras food as families use up the household’s fat, eggs, and dairy before Lent.

I don’t try to clean out the kitchen for Lent. Nope, no way I’m gonna try to eat through the leftover holiday candy, or worse, drink through the liquor cabinet! When discipline takes me along that route, I simply ignore the stash on hand for the time being.

But I do enjoy a good excuse to make a tasty meal, and Mardi Gras has its fair share of options. My vegan jambalaya also happens to be one of my favorite meals. It’s taken a while to get it down, mostly because it’s similar to risotto with a long cooking time. And because it takes a while, I only make it a couple of times a year. But it’s good!

Before I scare you off, let me say this: I don’t do complicated food. I like things simple and straight-forward. This isn’t a 30 Minute Meal, which makes it seem complicated. But it’s as simple as tasting as you go to see if the rice has cooked. And who doesn’t mind a sample along the way? Pour a glass of something refreshing and lean in to the cooking process.

vegan jambalaya - a Mardi Gras party in your mouth

vegan jambalaya – a Mardi Gras party in your mouth

Seasoning Mix
1/4 tsp each cayenne, thyme, basil and no-salt veggie/herb spice (like Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute)
1/2 tsp each sage and black pepper

3+ c veggie stock, divided use
1+ Tbsp olive oil, divided use
1/2 c diced onion
1/2 c diced bell pepper
1/2 c diced celery
3 links vegan sausage, halved and diced (I used one chorizo & 2 Italian)
1/2 c diced fresh tomatoes (in a pinch you can use canned, and if so, use the juice too)
1/2 c tomato sauce
3/4 c brown basmati rice (I prefer Trader Joe’s brand)
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 15-oz can kidney beans
1 Tbsp finely chopped Italian parsley
3 Tbsp finely sliced green onions

Combine seasoning mixture. Chop onion, celery, bell pepper. Chop tomatoes and sausage.

Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1/2 of the onion, celery, and pepper mix and cook until vegetables are tender. Add diced tomatoes and cook for 30 seconds. Add tomato sauce and cook for 1 minute. Add rice and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add 1 ½ c veggie stock and seasonings and simmer uncovered for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, add more stock by the 1/2 cup and stir occasionally until rice has cooked – similar to cooking risotto.

In another pan, fry sausage and remaining veggies. Just before rice has cooked, add sausage-veggie mix, beans, Worcestershire and garlic; taste and adjust with salt if needed. Before serving, add parsley and green onions and stir to combine.

Serve with crusty bread and your favorite beer.

Note: Traditional jambalaya includes shrimp. I really like Field Roast vegan sausage and though I don’t use it much, this is one dish in which I always use it. However, the idea of vegan shrimp turns my stomach. If you like it, go ahead and add 1 1/2 cups of cooked shrimp. Alternatively, if you’re cooking for meat-eaters you could cook shrimp separately and add it to individual bowls.

We’re a family of four and this recipe typically feeds us with maybe enough leftover for the lucky devil (or saint!) who gets to the fridge first the next day. As a result, I often bump up the ingredients a smidge to have enough leftover for Guy and I to each have for next day’s lunch – you know, add an extra dash of each spice, one more sausage link, just a little more of each veggie. If you’re going to the effort to make this meal, you want to enjoy it more than once.

The broth: I say 3+ cups, and it might just be more on the plus side of things. You just keep adding broth, stirring, and tasting to see if the rice has cooked. Using brown rice does make things take longer and requires more broth, which is why I suggest adding salt only at the very end. I use low-sodium veggie broth, but as this recipe can require 3+ cups of broth for only 3/4 cup of rice, it already has enough salt for our taste.

One more Mardi Gras fact – New Orlean’s official Mardi Gras colors were chosen in 1837 for their traditional Catholic symbolism: purple represents justice, green for faith, and gold for power. While their current cultural connotation means One Hecka’ Big Fun Party, may we, in faith, seek God’s justice in His power.