Several years ago, I had a minor surgical procedure. It was scheduled in the afternoon, which was the first time I’ve not had a surgery in the morning.
For this surgery I was given the standard instructions: nothing by mouth (NPO) after midnight. I reacted immediately: this is ridiculous. When I’ve had surgeries in the morning I was told to fast after midnight. Why would I fast longer for an afternoon surgery? I pointed this out to Nurse Ratchet, but she was adamant, unmoving in her instructions. Of course, I rebelled in my own way. When I woke up sometime in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, I took a couple gulps of water.
My morning was awful, my attitude miserable – no coffee, therefore I was irritable- my mouth was dry- I was hungry….blah, blah, blah. Complete resistance to this manner of forced fasting!
Fasting is hard enough to do when we choose to practice it, but when it is forced upon us it can be even harder to comply.
But sometimes in life we have this choice, and sometimes the choice is imposed upon us, like many of the spiritual disciplines. For example, there are times when we have little choice for solitude and silence because we are new moms, trying to work out schedules that are suitable for having newborns. Money constraints are better implemented when we practice simplicity. Surgery forces us to fast.
Regardless of whether we choose to practice fasting or it is imposed upon us, I believe we can always learn from the experience.
Fasting is a discipline of abstinence, and even with my limited experience of it, I’ve noticed that fasting has brought me to a place of new understanding. I’ve come to realize I do not need things I thought I needed.
I’ve noticed that fasting has brought me to a place of new understanding. I’ve come to realize I do not need things I thought I needed.
Currently, one of these places of imposed fasting has been my involvement in church.
I have several things happening which the evangelical church seems to reject: I am a woman and I have crossed a certain age timeline
Throughout the last few months I have struggled with this. After all, my whole life has been one of involvement in the church. I became educated and trained to serve the church better. My desire has been to aid in the spiritual growth of others. Yet I have been disappointed over and over again. I need to add that it is not one church alone, but rather the larger evangelical community in which I have participated throughout these many years. All of them have left me with a sense of never being enough.
So, yes, there is this abstinence which has been imposed on me and, as a result, I am pretty resistant to it.
But just because this fasting has been imposed upon me does not mean there isn’t something to be learned from it. Whether I give up chocolate on purpose or if I must, I will still come to the conclusion: I miss it, but I don’t need it.
Don’t get me wrong. I know I need the Church and I continue to attend a church. I believe the Church is God’s community on earth. Commanded and necessary. Although, maybe the way I viewed the Church is not exactly right. Perhaps my sense of Church is being deconstructed into a brand-new thing. As they say, beauty from ashes:
“and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.”
So you see, I would not have discovered this if I wasn’t in a place of fasting, regardless if it was chosen or imposed.
What am I learning through this practice of imposed fasting?
- This fasting has given me an appreciation for those who are the Church in my life. It is a small group of people who follow the Christian journey alongside me.
- My fasting has led me to notice other streams in the Christian faith: the writings of past Catholic fathers and mothers, the zeal of the social justice warriors, and the worship within the Pentecostal experience. All are my brothers and sisters in the faith, co-travelers on this spiritual journey. I don’t have to agree with all of their doctrinal stances, but I can admire their focus.
- Fasting is best and easier when the resistance is released through recognizing the need of dying to self. It is Christ’s work and not my own. He will use me as he sees fit. I am a clay pot in his hand for common or noble purposes. (Romans 9:21)
- Christ is my sufficiency. In Christ, I am enough. (2 Corinthians 12:9; Philippians 1:6)
- In the end, my hope is God will take the ashes and create a thing of beauty.
Usually with a spiritual discipline, you decide the beginning and the end. There is no timeline on this current practice of fasting for me. I guess it will end when I have learned what God wants me to learn. Such is the way of imposed spiritual practice.
How is God bringing you to a place of understanding with the practice of fasting?
What resistance do you need to release for you to come to a place of peace?
- Generations of Faith - February 5, 2020
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We need to start a church for “the rest of us”. I can relate to this and have just continued walking my purpose without church. I may go back but right now, for me, it’s a place that wounds too many. Praying you find a place to really use the amazing gift of Spiritual Direction that you’ve been given.
I pray your “fasting” will not be in vain or for long.
Thanks for the encouragement, Tina!
I love what you mentioned about church being God’s community in this side of heaven—“commanded and necessary “. I share many of your feelings about “the evangelical church” as a whole, as well. But I think you’re onto something—sometimes this imposed fasting brings new perspective re: an old friend. Thank you for this post and your reflection questions, Becky.
Things they are a changin’! “The church always reforming” – is true and a good thing!
As others have said, we have a fellowship through our Lord and Savior, the head of the church.
Thanks for this perspective on a required fast, and how our needs are often confused with our wants.
Thanks Becky, for your willingness to share your struggles about the church, many of which you and I have discussed frequently. Such a thoughtful way of seeing it, and giving me much to think through when I feel I am being deprived – imposed or free-will’d – and what I can learn from it, rather than what I have lost.
I am thankful to be able to learn and dialogue about some of these lessons while journeying along with you. In Christ, you are enough…
A slow process of learning…but a process nonetheless.
I am having a minor procedure on Thursday afternoon, and my last meal will be this evening. I have to go about 36 hours with nothing but water. I’m not looking forward to it at all, but my husband told me to look at the bright side: it’s a medically prescribed cleanse. I am hoping that while I struggle with nothing to occupy my mind (I’m not working this week because all of my students are on Spring Break!), I can look to Christ during my imposed fast–and kill two birds with one stone!
Hope everything went well. That’s a long medical fast!
I’ve gone through many imposed fastings in my life, most of which have had nothing to do with actual food. I’m working hard on my mindset, instead of crying out “why me God” I do my best to cry out “what God? What will you have me learn?” I find that during these times that God has my full attention. And although there may be moments of discouragement, desperation, loneliness, anger, frustration- I remain grateful for the fast- because these are the times that I grow the most and that I truly feel God’s hand in my life and breath in my heart.
Beautiful! Thanks for the reminder, Tara.
I’ve had a few of those in my life. And going back to the whole pride thing that seems to be a theme with me, I find I only learn from those experiences from a place of humility. Like you said, “Fasting is best and easier when the resistance is released through recognizing the need of dying to self. It is Christ’s work and not my own. He will use me as he sees fit. I am a clay pot in his hand for common or noble purposes. (Romans 9:21)”
I so agree. Pride is such a nasty place to be and I confess my living in it. How much more fruitful and quicker to approach such things with humility!
Hal Elrod always asks, “How can this [bad thing] serve me?”… Taken out of context, it can seem like a selfish question, but he asks it for anything from losing a client to having a cancer diagnosis. I’ve been trying to ask the question more often. It seems that, instead of coming from a me-centered selfish place, it puts me in a place of humility. Where I am weak, He is strong.
It really is a good question. When in a place of desolation, being open to the possibilities, again I think, helps with the process God might be bringing us through.