A few months ago I was in a night service that met in a dirty bar downtown. One thing I love about my church is it doesn’t put on airs. We meet Sundays in the City Rescue Mission, and there are just as many carpet stains as there are attendees. We also meet in bars. There was a moment after this particular dirty-bar service when people, beer in hand, could come get prayer if they wished. As I went down I heard the pastor ask us to let the Holy Spirit reveal whatever it was we were holding back from God, whatever was keeping us from being totally committed to Him.
I was single, broke, had a crappy job I hated, and was more than willing to leave it all behind if God wanted to send me to a village in Puka Puka as a missionary. Feeling pretty good about myself, I absentmindedly went to put my hands in my pockets. They didn’t fit.
That’s when I realized what it was. Food. I turned to food for everything; comfort, entertainment, pleasure, even humor (I joked about dating Ben & Jerry more than anyone should be allowed.) But because food wasn’t something like drugs or alcohol or sex, I‘d never seen it as a sinful addiction. That night I realized I needed to break the addiction in order to totally commit to God.
So I decided to fast.
Physically, it was not that bad. After a few days without food my digestion system shut down and I stopped feeling hunger. Emotionally, it was hell. I had lost my best friend. I spent so much time with food, not just eating it, but thinking about it, planning my life around it, fighting with it, that when it suddenly was gone, I felt like I was dumped (and I couldn’t even enjoy the obligatory breakup pint of ice cream.) For the first time I understood what it meant to be a “slave” to sin, not capable of serving two masters.
Towards the end, I started to go crazy. I wasn’t strong enough to go out with friends (dinner, drinks), watch TV (food commercials) or do much else socially. Embarrassingly, I developed an unhealthy fascination with thisiswhyyourefat.com, a website showcasing absurd food spectacles that usually involve deep frying and bacon. Lots of bacon. Once the dreams about burgers with doughnuts for buns came I knew it was time to stop.
I fasted for 36 days and in that time God showed me how to rely on Him, how to be still and know that He is God, how to see myself in His image and how to make really delicious popsicles out of cranberry and pineapple juice. He also showed me how to truly trust Him.
A good friend recently asked me what it looks like, practically, to trust God. Before, I would have given him the Christianese holy trifecta: “read your Bible, pray, and go to church.” Post-fast I realized in order to trust God, you need to be at the point where you’ve given up all hope of succeeding on your own. There were days during the fast when I woke up feeling exhausted and defeated. I’d literally sit at the edge of my bed and say out loud, “I can’t do this anymore God; I don’t have it in me. I love you, and if you want me to continue you have to take over.” Without fail, I would get a surprise lunchtime visit from my parents who’d take me to a bookstore. Or, at the exact moment I was staring down a bag of Cheetos, I’d get a phone call from a friend who just wanted to tell me how proud they were.
Fasting didn’t make me instantly love that yeah, I look more like Jack Black than Jessica Biel, but it did make me stop caring so much what I looked like. I was thinking about God so much and my heart felt so loved by Him that I was filled with an overwhelming peace and joy in my soul. For the first time in my life, I was seeing myself for what I truly was: someone created and loved by God. That became my focus, not the scale or the mirror. Even better, that joy I felt was overflowing onto others because I was seeing in them what I saw in myself; not flaws, but God’s love.
Unlike someone who struggles with alcohol or drugs, I can’t just put down the fork for good. I have to face this three times a day, every day, and it’s been hard. What helps is remembering what I learned on my fast: that to trust in Him is to give up all help of succeeding on my own. I can still sit on the edge of my bed every morning and ask God to take over (even if I follow that prayer with a bowl of Captain Crunch.) The fast showed me how to find freedom in his love, how to find fulfillment in things other than food, how to love others, and (even if I never look like Jessica Biel), truly love myself.
Emily is a writer and cubicle dweller. She likes cheese. You can find her at her blog here.