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.

Quirky Christmas

School for 2014? Check!

*Sigh of relief* The kids are off to movies and friends as I borrow a couple of quiet hours to straighten up and address Christmas cards. For weeks the house has been an explosion of Christmas detritus landed alongside, underneath, and atop backpacks, shoes and jackets, sporting equipment, and who knows whose papers for who can tell which subject? I’ve done my best to focus on the important over the pine needle rug, the piled-up dishes, the un-addressed cards. The tree was up and lit for a week before we decorated it in the one 20-minute period both boys were home between school and activities.

Teamwork makes quick work

Teamwork makes quick work

My first waking thought earlier this week: “Even in my dreams I’m racing around!” I awoke just as exhausted as I’d hit the pillow. And then I read, “We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories” (Jonathan Gottschall). My mind’s stories had to be of the rush, hurry, rest-less variety.

I haven’t been in a party mood this year. I have needed – more than usual – time for quiet and reflection, sacred moments carved from the craziness of December church and family life. When I gave my life-of-the-party husband the gift of my company at a Christmas party, a woman I’ve known for some time asked how I am, seeming concerned, then asked, “Just let me encourage you? How old are you?” Guessing where she might be headed, I demurred, “Oh, right, and everything’s heading south…” To which she replied, “But you are still beautiful! I know you don’t feel it, but you are!” … Merry Christmas to me! For encouragement’s sake, I’ve been reminded that my numbers, in years and on the scale, are inching skyward. I’m getting older – and fat – but still beautiful… for my age? Goodness…

So I’ve decided in this too-full season to capitalize on my unique brand of quirky Christmas.

"In My Santa Suit" red toes

“In My Santa Suit” red toes, even though it’s absolutely closed-toe shoe weather

My feather wreath: Dr. Seuss whimsy

My feather wreath: Dr. Seuss whimsy

The Christmas Tortoise candle holder makes me giggle.

Doesn’t everyone have a Christmas Tortoise?

Beautiful and broken snowglobe

Beautiful – and broken – snow globe

Not sure how it happened, but the inside base of this globe tilted while in storage. I almost threw it out last year. And then I didn’t. It’s not worth much, but I have liked it since I first spotted it. And as I held it, paused over the garbage can, I decided that this snow globe will remind me: our expectations of Christmas will always be a little sideways to the lived reality.

Christmas, like life, doesn’t go according to plan. At least, not my plan. And Christmas can still be beautiful, sparkling, iridescent, even when – perhaps especially when – it doesn’t go according to my plan.

These things remind me to be present, to laugh at the silly, to be okay with the imperfections of the season and in myself. Richard Rohr writes, “If you are present, you will eventually and always experience the Presence. It is so simple, and so hard…” (The Naked Now, p59). And my current fav, Ann Voskamp, writes: “I always get my Christmas miracle. I get God with me. That’s really all I have to get ready for Christmas – my heart. So I will just come to Him just as I am.”

My quirky Christmas decorations are talismans pointing me toward a better perspective, icons through which I experience an altogether more important Presence. They may look odd or out of place to you, but they serve a significant purpose for me.

Wishing you a merry – and quirky – Christmas!