|Image from picturesofpoverty.com|
Quite a few incidents led me to this decision, which I need to talk about. I’ll start by saying that I’ve discovered what it’s like to ignore something so much that you know it’s something you should pay attention to. For months—years, perhaps—I’ve had a sneaking antagonism toward fasting. If I don’t eat I tend to get weak and headachy, so going without food is a very unpleasant experience, plus who wants to practice that kind of self-denial for any period of time? Nevertheless, I kept coming up against fasting in the Bible, in conversation, on the covers of books, in sermons, etc. The more I heard and saw it mentioned the more I gritted my teeth and reiterated all of my objections. It’s an outdated practice. It’s not healthy. I don’t need that. What it really came down to was that I didn’t have the necessary self-control.
In the midst of all this, several other things were going on. As some of you may know, I am part of Compassion International’s advocate network, and I work to raise awareness of children living in poverty. One of the ways I do this is to periodically write about Compassion on this blog (Compassion actually has an entire network of amazing bloggers who express their passion for the suffering through their skill with words). Compassion recently sent me a book called A Place at the Table, by Chris Seay, and it was all about showing solidarity with the poor by drastically changing your lifestyle for 40 days, primarily through fasting. After looking over it for a few minutes, I set it on the shelf and didn’t give it much more thought. Then I became part of the strengths-based advocacy program and started coaching sessions with a great woman named Jennifer, who gave me tons of insight and inspiration, not to mention some much-needed accountability. When she questioned me about ways I could expand my advocacy, it came to mind that I wanted to incorporate my work with Compassion into my everyday life, making it less about the three or four events I might put on to raise money or get sponsors, and more a part of me. I came up with the idea that I would tackle a challenge and blog about it; that would give me a story to share with my readers and also give me the opportunity to deeply integrate compassion for the poor and lost into every day.
So I picked up that book again and took a second look. What I saw was exactly what I needed: a program of devotional self-denial, re-connection with God, identification with the poor. Half-formed ideas started dropping into place, and I decided to go for it.
I want to make the point that I will not be going without food for 40 days; I'll just be trying to eat simpler, cheaper meals on a regular basis, and sacrificing a few favorite foods. I am not going to be absolutely legalistic in this challenge—if a friend’s birthday dinner comes up I will certainly attend and enjoy the meal. If this does not line up exactly with what Seay advocates, then let’s say I’m doing it a little differently than him. I don’t think that God would be honored by my declining to join my family and friends in sharing a wonderful meal just because it happened to fall on a fast day.
Here are my goals for what I want to accomplish with this challenge:
- Identify more with those who live in poverty: I’m not trying to draw attention to myself by making my fasting a public matter, I just want to raise some awareness through my own experiences and give myself and others a small taste of what it is like for those who have so little. There are so many people in our world—literally on our front doorstep—who are dying of hunger and thirst. They are so easy to forget.
- Release any food addictions I might have and cultivate true appreciation for food: In his book, Chris Seay gives an explanation of the Biblical pattern of fasting and feasting. God called His people again and again to deprive themselves, but He also stipulated certain times of year when they were to enjoy the full measure of His favor and revel in His good gifts. Seay makes a wonderful point, “My problem, and possibly yours as well, is not that I spend too much time fasting or too much time feasting. My problem is that I do neither. I simply consume my food." He also writes, "What I have learned in recent years is that when I focus less on controlling my cravings and instead on something much bigger than just me, my motives begin to shift. When my motives shift, I begin to see victory in areas that I was not even focusing on." I want to stop taking my food for granted, scarfing it down without taking the time to truly enjoy it. I also want to break any addictions I might have (snacks, hot drinks, and desserts come to mind), and eliminate some of the highly processed food that has wormed its way into my diet. But I will also be breaking the fast once a week to really feast, and this will hopefully help me experience gratitude in a new way.
- Help the poor as I've never done before: One thing I brought away from the book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream was the injunction to give more than I can afford. A lot of Christians tithe, but they only give what they are able. What if we gave more than we are able? Not in an irresponsible way of course, but in a way that made us feel the pinch and perhaps cut out some unnecessary luxuries. During these 40 days I will attempt to find ways to give, monetarily and in other ways, to help those who are less fortunate than myself.
- Humble myself: I’m human, and I struggle with pride. God is revealing a lot of areas in my life that need deep cleaning, and I’m hoping that this challenge will show me my complete dependence on the Lord and deepen my love for and trust in Him.
- Get closer to God: By praying and reading the Bible more, as well as working through Seay’s daily devotions, I want to grow closer to my Father than ever before. The more compassion for the poor that I experience, the closer I am to God’s heart.
- Consume less and give more: I need to do this in so many ways, not only in the realm of eating, but by taking the most basic step of concentrating less on myself and more on others. Every time a hunger pain strikes me or I find myself craving chocolate ice cream, it will be a reminder to pray for children like my Anita in Ghana, or Jaymar in the Philippines. Also, if I’m focusing less on what I put into my body perhaps I’ll focus more on the people around me.
I’m sure that this challenge is going to be difficult (that’s why it’s called a challenge, right?), but so worthwhile. I hope to learn a lot in the process.
Want to join me?