I feel really, really full– and not the good kind of full, like you feel after a good conversation, a hug from your child or a nice compliment. There is the “full of contentment and peace” and then there is the “full” that feels like a stuffed turkey. After all the yummy baked goods and Halloween candy, I am feeling especially stuffed and guilty. This is how I would describe myself right now. But really, it is more than that. I feel uncomfortably stuffed with myself. I have given myself a license to indulge “myself” for myself. So, I guess that makes me full of myself. Not good! You might be tempted to stop reading at this point and think, “Here is another blog post about the feelings and issues of the writer, blah, blah,blah.” If you read on, you possibly might be encouraged, pointed to Jesus, and you might read something that leads to transformation in the years ahead. But beware, it will not feel good!
The Whistle of Change
I began to sense, oh so faintly, that a needed change was coming– kind of like a slightly shifting breeze signally that the weather is about to turn cold, or a distant whistle of a train warning of its inevitable approach into town. It is coming. As I hear the uncomfortable distant whistle, preparing me that something is coming, something is needed, I ask God, “What is it?” Sometimes, people feel this in an emptiness, a loneliness, or a discontentment. I have come to learn, slowly, very slowly, that often God uses this kind of “fullness” and restlessness to call me to stop, and pause. The time has come to, not only take additional time out to spend with God, but to physically remove myself from things that are clamoring for my attention— the things that are making me overly full. And it isn’t just the indulgence of my emotional eating, but also my mindless unchecked thoughts, my bored device usage, or my desire to just buy something for myself. My gluttony of “go to’s” are leaving me tired, stuffed and self-absorbed. Who wants to continue in that direction? As I listen, I sense God whispering to me to pause and, not just reign in my gluttony, but to physically and spiritually detox my soul. And God often uses physical things to show spiritual realities.
Let me explain. As Jesus began His ministry, the first step after his baptism was to enter the desert. In our finite understanding, it seems strange to spend 40 whole days preparing for about 3 years of ministry. A normal response for beginning would not be a fast, but more likely an urgency to “get out there and get things done,” find out what the “competition” is up to, or “make a presence” or a “name for oneself.” Instead, the Spirit draws Him into a lonely, desolate place where he must rely completely on the Father. God the Father uses solitude and fasting (physical things) to draw Him to dependence and worship of God His Father. There are countless stories of how God uses our physical world to work in us spiritual change.
The Detox Begins
Now the ringing is no longer faint, but so strong it can’t be ignored– and my gluttony feels more and more like a nuisance, a problem– and very unwelcome and unwanted. Gluttony to me is a strange word. Really we don’t use it that often. Maybe because we don’t like the sound of the word or, possibly we really don’t like the meaning of it, for it kind of hits close to home. Gluttony is basically a greedy or excessive indulgence. Who wants to be greedy or overly indulgent? Gluttony sounds so, so… excessive and extreme. Is comparison or coveting greed? I wonder? Is complaining greed? How about, just wanting, “a little more of this, one more bite, a little more time, one more look?” On and on, I could go. One thing I do know, in this place I call earth, I will always be in battle with myself. But I also know, as I seek Jesus, walk with Him and obey Him, I will see myself transformed. I am a living paradox.
The Impossible Fast
I have fasted before. And before you think, “Remember, you are not suppose to talk about fasting, but keep it quiet so no one knows how spiritual you are.” Or, “You must be super-spiritual or religious to enter a fast, and especially if you do it more than once.” Let me set the record straight. For most of my life, fasting (from food) has seemed impossible, so I avoided it. I would fast from other things– music in the car, sweets, and even coffee!. But fasting from food was pretty much impossible when I experienced excrutiating headaches, and an upset stomach to the point of vomiting. “Why fast, if you feel like this?” I ended up lying in bed or not fit to be around anyone. It was definitely not something “God was calling me to.” Little did I know that my body was just facing caffeine withdrawal symptoms. I was an addict going cold turkey. No wonder I felt terrible! Years and years later, I sensed a prompting to fast from food– but first I began to “wean” myself off coffee (Yes, I am a wimp!).
As I fasted the first time from food for longer than a day, I didn’t have the severe headaches and didn’t feel as nauseous, but it still wasn’t easy. Every fiber in my being wanted to stop and be done with this silly, unnecessary thing called a “fast.” Of course Jesus could do it! He was perfect. The first day of the fast, my prayer was simple and frequent, “I need you Jesus.” All day long I prayed this as I took care of my preschooler, sent kids off to school, lied in bed, made dinner for the boys, or lead a bible study. In my weakness, that is what I could pray. I felt useless and weak, utterly realizing how much I needed Jesus.
The Kind Fast
Only through the God’s kindness (His abundant grace and mercy) was I able to continue. I say kindness, because through this physical fast, I ended up meeting with Jesus in new and intimate ways. As I sensed Him with me, all things seemed possible, even concluding the remainder of the fast. It was His kindness that pointed out sins I needed to confess or other things which were creating barriers between me and God or me and others. It was His kindness that sustained me when I really wanted to quit. But somewhere, somehow, something changed. Yes, I wanted to eat, but I sensed my mind becoming clearer. God seemed closer. His word was like delicious food for me. My energy was still there. I also felt like I was able to let go of little offensives, and my ears opened up to listen. Both enabled me to connect better with others. At the end of that fast, I wrote in my journal that I was so glad God lead me to fast. I even hated it to be over, for I didn’t want the intimacy with the Lord to end. I felt like a renewed person in a way I had never experienced before. The physical act of the removal of food drew me to dependence on God, an awareness of my sin, and the supernatural work of the Spirit bringing transformation. I understood for the first time that when Jesus said, “When you fast….”, He knew it was something we needed in this place that is not our true home. It is actually an act of His kindness intervening for us.
Here I am once again with my paradoxical self. As I heard the faint ringing, I sensed it was time to do something. A detox is a time in which one abstains from or rids the body of toxic or unhealthy substances. It was time to fast. There were three areas that seem to keep popping up that needed attention (well there are a lot more than that, but three is what I keep coming back to): gluttony, pride and anxiety (control). The gluttony was the most obvious, for all the cookies were gone. When I repeatedly see myself turning to sweets, Halloween candy, and other food in my boredom, or keep telling myself, “It is okay for now, it will stop soon,” I start feeling guilty and dull. As I frequently turn to lesser, addictive things for comfort- it is time to hear the whistle of change in my life– and that may involve fasting from food for a period of time. This is one of God’s kindnesses– using a physical experience to bring about spiritual transformation. The two are intertwined. I imagine Jesus was sent into the dessert because the road ahead was going to be very difficult. He would need to submit to the Father completely. His fast helped prepare Him for dependency to the end.
I like to depend on myself. I like to control things and be “ok” with me. We all feel at times that something needs to change. We feel a little stuck and uncertain. Fasting is a thing, not many people talk about out loud, for fear they are disobeying or drawing attention to themselves. I do at times share with some about my experiences with fasting as I teach the word, lead women or disciple– for I feel they would miss out if they never heard it discussed of modeled. At the same time, I see how completely helpless I am. Because I am so helpless I need to fast, not because I am so “religious or spiritual.”
As you look at your own possible gluttony, ask these questions:
How am I comforted?
What do I look forward to, to be comforted?
What am I regularly turning to when I am sad, bored or lonely?
A Clean House
The first day or so of the fast I felt distracted. There are so many things going on, as I try to pare down my schedule. I am learning to be patient and wait on God. I always want immediate change– just like I want immediate comfort.
I have also taken a little time to “detox” my house. It has been a long time since the fans have been dusted. The dust bunnies are not that cute and rather dirty. Sweet Pepper, the dog, is shedding her summer coat and the house is covered in hair. The bathroom tubs are a nice shade of tan. As I dust I pray, ” God would you renew me? Would you remove this gluttony? I need you Lord.” As I clean, it is a physical reminder of the need for my soul to be detoxed. I so dislike cleaning, but I do love a clean house.