I’ve been fasting since midnight on New Years Eve.
I have fasted before so I knew kind of what to expect. I am fasting from coffee and all animal products, which is hard because of my deep love affair with cheese. When I’ve fasted in the past I had really bad headaches and felt drained of all energy. That usually lasts about three days then my body realizes I’m not pumping it full of caffeine and sugar and what I am doing is a good thing. I have to say that this time it’s a lot easier than it has been in the past. Before, I had cravings for food almost the whole time and the first thing I ate when I was done was a huge piece of seven-layer chocolate cake and a cup of the blackest coffee I could find. This time I am finding it quite easy.
After three frustrating days of eating only corn, peas, rice and potatoes, I called my brother who is a vegan and asked him what he eats. He told me that they have vegan substitutes for anything. If I like pasta with alfredo sauce then I can use vegan cheese and soy creamer mixed with vegan butter to make a sauce that not only was completely void of all meat products but actually tasted like alfredo should taste. I hung up the phone, wiped the drool from my cheek, and headed to a natural food store to try my luck. I walked to the case labeled “Vegan” and shed a tear of joy for the bounty I had just discovered. If I wanted sausage, I could have vegan sausage. If I wanted ice cream I could have mango and vanilla swirl soy ice cream. If I wanted chocolate chip cookies I could have vegan chocolate chip cookies. So with a full cart of soy, animal-free products I gleefully walked out with two bags of substitute food.
I was in heaven. I was sticking to my fast without actually giving up any of the food that I loved to eat. And for the most part there wasn’t a real taste difference. Then I began to wonder, am I fasting at all? Yes I gave up animal products but had I really given anything up? I still ate the same things I did before just with a slight soy aftertaste. So was I really fasting?
Then another thought popped into my head. “What else have I given up in exchange for a poor substitute?” The first thing I thought of was religion. I grew up in a series of pretty staunch, conservative, old school churches. The kind where the pastor led us in hymns and the only instrument was an old piano that an elderly lady played like a sewing machine instead of a beautiful instrument. When I went to college I threw off the shackles of religion. I didn’t believe that you had to dress up to go to church. I thought that you could have a band play worship and even (gasp) show a movie clip in the service every now and then. I felt like I had come pretty far from those years of wearing a family mandated suit to church and sitting in a pew.
But when I feel distant from God my first inclination is to buy a CD or a book that will rekindle that flickering flame. I like getting tattoos but I have a hard time with Christians that don’t get Christ centered tattoos. My gauge on someone’s spirituality is more based on how they look than how much they are living in grace.
I had given up the religion of my childhood for the religion of the reformed thinker. I was eating soy religion.
I have a friend that struggled for years with drinking and drugs. After he asked me to pray for him one day, he said he was heading to the beach to clear his head and connect with God. The thing is, he would go to the beach after each of his benders and try to get close to God. Eventually at the pleading of his friends and family he went into rehab and for the first time in years, is drug free and able to walk unashamedly hand in hand with God. Going to the beach is fine. Getting away from the distractions of life to grow closer to God is wonderful and I believe biblical, but when you expect a certain location, conference, book or CD, to do what only Jesus can do, you are establishing your own religious ceremonies.
So, lately I’ve been trying to tear down any soy religion that I have in my life. If I feel distant from God I don’t ask what song or book will restore my relationship with Christ. Instead I remind myself that the only distance between God and myself is the distance that I put between us and that relying on anything but Jesus and His redemptive work on the cross to restore me is a feeble attempt on my behalf to reach for a God that I was never meant to reach for. He already has me in His arms and nothing I can do; no book, no song, no tattoo or t-shirt can ever help me attain what I already have.
Whenever we use religion, be it soy or classic old school, as the foundation for growth in our walk with Christ we might as well not be doing anything at all. And that’s exactly where God wants us to be.