Fasting has been on my mind a lot lately. Probably because it’s Lent, but also because I’m reading Seven, by Jen Hatmaker (I’ll give my thoughts on the book once I finish). I know I’m late to the party reading this book, but I’ve told you before: I’m never the first on the band wagon. I try wait until it’s not “cool” anymore. Pretty sure this makes me “uncool.”
Anyhow…fasting. I’m searching Scripture, purging my closets, and decluttering my thoughts of social media. But if you remove something, there is inherently a void, and usually our human nature will fill it with something. Addicts turn from one drug to another. Adulterers cheat on one spouse then the next. Smokers stuff their mouths instead with food. My clients switch from soda to sweet tea. I give up the cookie for a handful of dark chocolate chips.
There have been times I’ve fasted (from food or noise or whatever) for the purpose of focused prayer. I believe this is a beneficial and important endeavor. Especially at Lent, we can refocus our thoughts on Christ and His sacrifice in the days leading to Easter. But as I read Isaiah 58, maybe there were times in the past that I was really fasting just to get my way. I felt as these people did:
They grumbled to God: “Why have we fasted, they say, and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?” (v. 3)
I gave up my lunch, God, so why are Finn’s legs still paralyzed? I prayed in my closet–on my knees, mind you–and our finances didn’t change. Why? The King responds:
“You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high” (v. 4).
Okay, so how then? Why fast? And how am I changed by it?
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke; to set the oppressed free and break every chain? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter–when you see the naked, to clothe him and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (v. 6-7).
“True” fasting seems less about giving up food or resources and more about giving up ourselves. I don’t know about you, but it’s much more difficult for me to bring a meal to a stinky person, make eye-contact and show them they are valued than it is for me to simply skip dinner. Or remove the Facebook app from my phone.
It’s an active fasting. A fasting from self. Ugh…harder.
So I removed two pairs of running shoes from my closet this weekend. Nikes and Reeboks. Not cheapies; okay. I planned to sell them in a garage sale, knowing I could get about $5-$10/pair. That’s good babysitting money, people.
But then I read about Jen–prompted by none other than Shane Claiborne–who left her prized cowboy boots (and socks) at the altar for the homeless. Expensive city-girl cowboy boots are impractical for a homeless person; yes. But that’s not the point. The point was obedience and a looser grip on our possessions. So instead I plan to give these shoes to someone in our church. Or maybe on the street. Someone with a foot around a size 7 who needs something comfy to walk in; whose feet have felt better days. It doesn’t matter if I purge. The purpose is purging so that I may bless.
The obedience of fasting comes not when I give something up, but when I replace it by doing or giving something good. When I empty myself and fill someone else. There’s even benefit for me in this kind of fasting. Read (don’t skim) this beautiful truth:
“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say, ‘Here am I’…and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday” (v. 8-10).
Feeling broken? Pray for someone else’s hurting heart. Guilty? You’re righteous when you’re selfless. Hungry? Feed another mouth. Depressing and dark days caving in on you? Let the light of Scripture encourage a friend. Fast, but fill another.