This week our church challenged the congregation to engage in a week of fasting and prayer. I must admit, it has been quite some time since my last fast. I have always seen positive results from fasting: improved health, increased mental acuity, and – most important – a closer, deeper relationship with God.
Fasting brings humility, something we all could use a bit more of. As my first day of a weeklong fast comes to a close, I find myself in a place of quiet contentment. I am hungry but not ravenous. I am on a modified fast due to my diabetes, drinking tea and broth, and eating a few apples to keep my glucose levels in check. My fast will run from sunrise to sunset, taking dinner in the evening. Surprisingly, I do not ‘miss’ food. I am not panicky about the time or the hour when my fast will come to an end. I have spent the day reading, praying, listening to good music. I ran a few errands, passing the many fast food restaurants that dot our neighborhood, yet not once did it occur to me to run through the drive-thru and get something off the dollar menu as I usually would on other days. (Eating out is also excluded during my fast).
My thoughts today have been with people and experiences from past trips to Kenya. There, people eat to live, taking only what they need and not making food a demigod. My first impression of Kenyan food was how bland it was. The local fare served in the small villages I visited was completely devoid of any spice or seasoning, which I assumed was probably due to the added expense of such exotic ingredients. We stayed in the small communities of Kipkaren and Ilula, about a day’s drive north of the capital city of Nairobi. There people live a very simple life, most families earning a living by farming or making simple pieces of furniture or other items to sell in the market places of larger towns. Our diet was simple; coffee or chai in the morning with toast and maybe a bit of fresh fruit. Lunch for us was more than locals would eat: some pasta or rice cooked with a bit of meat. The evening meal would be much the same as lunch with some greens or ugali (corn meal cake) added. We consumed meals in community and shared stories and smiles as we all sat and ate together.
Eating food that had little or no taste other than its own natural flavoring reminded me of Daniel the Old Testament Prophet who, “ate no pleasant food”, during his periods of fasting. My wife and I have decided to simplify our menus during our time of fasting – no little goodies or ‘extras’ on our food. This means no croutons or crumbled Mediterranean herbed feta on our salads, no garlic fries, no wine with dinner. Soda pop, ice cream, burgers and pizza are all out the window for the next week – maybe longer? I know at the very least I’ll lose a few pounds, which is not a bad thing at all.
Our fasting regimen may sound trivial to some of you, what’s the big deal about not putting cheese on your salad or driving past the drive thru? When it comes to fasting, it’s not the act itself necessarily; it’s more about what the act creates inside of you. Every time I think about something I am leaving out of my normal routine, my thoughts turn to God. When it’s lunch time and instead of soup and a sandwich I have just the soup, I think about God. When I make our salads and leave out the olives, the cheese, the croutons, I think about God. When I use meatless meatballs instead of spicy Italian pork sausage, I think about God. And that is the purpose of fasting. Whether you choose to give up TV or video games or cigarettes or croutons on your salad, whenever you make a sacrifice – no matter how minute – that causes you to think about God, that is a fast. It works for me.