Voluntary Weakness

I was asked through a comment* on an earlier post to write on fasting. While a topic very close to my heart, I have to admit it’s intimidating to “put myself out there” in regards to it. For a few reasons:

First, I had a very real struggle with eating and my weight through high school and college that even showed itself again twice afterward. I’ve since had deep healing in this area, but I want to handle this topic with kid gloves as I know there are readers who still walk where I’ve walked. To receive the real fruit of fasting, the line between fasting food and weight manipulation can’t be crossed. (Fasting food is not for those who are actively struggling in this area. More on this at the end of the post.)

Second, I’ve “failed” over and over again. I may have broken more fasts than I’ve completed. My point in sharing this is not because I believe God desires for fasting to be perfected and that, to write about fasting, I need to be good at it. But to the contrary, I want to carefully communicate that fasting produces a “success” that isn’t measured by how it’s executed. I’ve learned this through my many fasts broken a few days or hours early … and God’s response.

God met me at my weakest moment — in fact, I think that provided the entryway for our true introduction. I had a relationship with Him for years that was built primarily (though not solely) around a construct of success. God gave me “my best life now”, I thought. He added to my impact.  And the accolades which came as a result of that impact only fueled my conception that life with God translated into promotion.

Then, the naive prayers I prayed when life was good were answered.

God slowly, but mercifully, began to unravel my success. He allowed trials and subsequent pain that didn’t fit my paradigm of Christianity. He uniquely leveraged circumstances to draw out the fears and insecurities which my success had served to mask. He undid me.

And then He wooed me. He met me. He engaged with my pain and applied the kind of healing that only a Father can. He bandaged my wounds, and in the meantime my cold heart started to thaw.

For these years, I felt like I was living a fast. The things I relied upon, even just the momentary pleasures of life that remained through all those trials, were drained. My food became God. I needed Him to get through a day, even just an hour. Most mornings He was the only reason my feet hit the floor beside my bed and didn’t stay nestled under the covers all day. In this place, I couldn’t really understand people who were lamenting about going through a whole day and forgetting to acknowledge God. My circumstances — and a new awareness of real depravity in my heart — had left me leveled. I was faced with the reality, day in and day out, that I was nothing without Him.

During that time, He began to reconstruct my understanding of Him in such a way that I actually relished my weakness — because it was the very thing, the only thing, that brought me into the safety of His fatherhood.

Voluntary weakness. That’s what fasting is. Putting ourselves in a position to need God, in a way that runs counter to our daily life’s cravings.

So my stage was set to seek more of this, when life wasn’t so hard. Circumstances began to fall into a better place and my heart felt the benefits of real emotional healing. I found myself noting, like those others I couldn’t understand before, my days passing without an encounter with God, much less a recognition of Him. I wanted the “glory days” back when my flesh was weak but my heart was alive. I wanted the personal touch of God laced through my day.

Enter fasting. Periods of time, sometimes days, others weeks, others just hours, where I said “no” to what I craved and “yes” to the weakness that invites Jesus. The form didn’t really matter — at times I had a grace from God to fast all but water, and other times I fasted things like sweets and meat or solid foods — it was my resulting weakness that provided the entryway. I wanted to put myself in a position where I recognized my gaping need for God. Resisting the little things that provided for my daily highlights, made it so that only God would (and could) be my highlight.

And somewhere in the awkwardness of being cranky, depleted, uncomfortable and hungry, His Spirit inside of me begins to take the wheel. My flesh takes a backseat. Cognitively, it makes no sense. On the days I fast, it feels like my productivity plummets, but somehow the sweet power of God trumps my weakness. So much so that I want to do it again the next week.

It is good and so bad, all at once. I dread fasting days, but love what comes of them. Things I’ve prayed for (for months, oftentimes) take wings just after those fasts. And the ugly parts of my flesh, the part I plead with God to remove, not surprisingly lose steam after prayer and fasting. I get a taste of stepping off the treadmill of cycle after cycle after cycle of the same struggles, the same fears, the same sins. Fasting, somehow, produces breakthrough. God brings freedom when I have no strength to implement a victory plan.

His ways are just so counter to this material world.

And yet, I don’t really like fasting. But I love what it produces in me. And the key is not being a “good” fast-er. The kingdom of God doesn’t advance solely through discipline, in my perspective, but the eye of the father is on the one — like me — who falls seven times but, yet again, gets up. Fasting takes the intangible truth that God is strong and we are weak and infuses it into our soul. It is utterly humbling because it reveals how much our lives depend on things that aren’t God. Like chai tea lattes. And regular meals.

To fast is to desperately need God to carry it through.

I broke a fast once by scarfing down a family-sized bag of peanut M&M’s. It had probably been a year at least since I had even one. But they tasted so good (for about 5 seconds until my empty stomach was ready to revolt). And God told me to press delete, and start over. No shame. Get back up. Fasting isn’t about self-will, it’s about putting yourself in a place to receive desire. So even “failure”, just as long as you don’t quit, can produce heart-level results.

For those of you who share my history with eating struggles, but haven’t yet had victory (or those of you who are pregnant or nursing moms or who have health conditions which preclude you from fasting), there many things to fast beyond food. Television. Internet. Email. Phone. Just the noise of life that can be a crutch. Those things that, if removed, allow us to acknowledge our emptiness.

It is in weakness that He found me. The years where I got the props from other people for my ministry and my impact and received regular kudos for my faith paled in comparison to the dark nights where Jesus met me in the barren field. And the ground that was taken in my life during that time was so vast, that I refuse to wait for another set of circumstances before I position myself to receive more of Him like that. In weakness.

God speaks into our void. Fasting creates the atmosphere where reliance on that Voice is the only option.

But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them; then they will fast in those days. Luke 5:35

*If you are interested in participating in the fasting group that Anne mentioned in her comment, you can find details here.