Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fasting Food (not to be confused with "Fast Food")

I realize that one of this blog’s goals is to highlight great food and how I’ve created it or copied it from others, but I’d like to share on another topic today. The topic is fasting. Ironically, I just got home from eating a wonderful meal with one of my friends. She served us a superbly seasoned fillet of some type of white fish, most likely halibut or tilapia. The lemon and dill flavors were delightful and perfectly complimented the leftover lasagna I brought over as my contribution to the meal. (Sarcasm intended. Her fish definitely overshadowed my meager offerings.) But enough talk about sharing food, I want to delve into the practice of withholding it.

As a child, I had mixed views on fasting as a spiritual discipline. The large pentecostal church my family called home highly encouraged fasting. I remember calls to “10”, “30” or even “40 Days of Fasting”, which typically meant abstaining from a particular food category such as meat or dairy, or the occasional highly-restrictive liquid-only diet of soups and teas. I don't think I ever participated. Growing up, I treasured every meal we shared as a family. My Dad was an amazing chef and my mom's occasional roasted chicken with vegetables or black bean burritos with sprouts, were hearty and satisfying. At times, when finances were tight, even a simple meal warranted a spirit of gratitude. I suppose the idea of fasting seemed so foreign because I knew how every meal I enjoyed wasn't guaranteed and that sense of insecurity pushed me to live in the present and what little control I had. I wasn't going to miss out on food. Let alone initiate the loss.

Fast forward to college. I attended a private Nazarene university in Southern California. While there, I actively participated in the campus prayer group. I think the idea of fasting occurred to me one day, after reading multiple verses in both the Old and New Testament on the topic. I was fascinated. Stories of Moses fasting for “40 days and 40 nights”, David fasting for deliverance and begging God to spare his firstborn son, the prophets fasting in the sight of the Lord, petitioning His favor. Those are just a handful of the people throughout the Bible who honored and drew near to God through this act. I was intrigued at the thought of what fasting signified and more importantly, how it felt. I wanted to know what true hunger for Christ was like, in being able to surrender my natural desires and needs in the moment—even if that “moment” was just for a day. So, I curiously and also deliberately sectioned out time when I could “fast.” I think the first time I fasted, my roommate participated with me. I remember us drinking a lot of tea that day. What I prayed for, I honestly don't recall. I do remember feeling an incredible amount of peace though, amidst the hunger pangs.

My second experience in fasting was a stark contrast. The events that unfolded during it are the main reason why yesterday, January 25, 2012, was such a breakthrough for me. I'll start at the beginning. It was my sophomore year in college and I had been feeling God's call to fast. During my spring break, my roommate and I had the opportunity to house sit for a friend in the church. I was a tag-a-long, really, but it was a great excuse to spend time away from school enjoying a house all to ourselves. While there, I set aside a day to fast. I had a day of prayer lined up, and splurged on herbal teas during my breaks. I felt so much peace, as if Christ was speaking directly to my heart that day. The next morning, I awoke early and prepared a sumptuous feast of eggs, fruit and pancakes for my friend and me. It was delicious. And deadly, I soon realized. We quickly devoured the meal since we were heading out the door. Once in the car, I started to sneeze a lot. And then cough. And then my face swelled up. We were barely minutes into our drive, when I shrieked, “Hospital! We haaave to go to the hos-pi-tal!”

My body was going into anaphylaxis, the ER doctor later told me. My body experienced a severe allergic reaction to something I came in contact with. It caused my face and throat to swell. One shot of epinephrine, two prescriptions of steroids and a few hours later, I was out the door. The recovery process—not as short. I woke up many nights following the “incident” with panic attacks and couldn't eat eggs, bananas or pancakes for months after. They scared me. And fasting, well, that fear has taken longer to mend.

Here I am, a couple months shy of seven years since my last fast. I am pretty amazed at how God works in my life, constantly pursuing me and nudging me to go “deeper” in my faith. I am also very impressed with His timing. A couple days ago, during my 'quiet time', I heard God bring up the topic of fasting. I had been sharing with Him my excitement over this new blog idea I was pursuing. How I would need His help with story and recipe ideas. I got carried away, talking at God. Then I fell silent. He answered back to me and shared with me how important He wants to be in my life. How, yes, the blog was great, but He wants to be even greater. God asked me to “sacrifice thank offerings as a means of honoring Him.” (Psalm 50:23) He asked me to set aside a day for Him. To fast. To pray. And that's what I did. Yesterday, I obeyed what I heard God say, and I was scared. My fears about what happened the last time I fasted threatened to consume me, but God spoke healing words deep into my soul. He told me how much He cares about me, about my friends (and even people who aren't my friends!) He loves me so much, and there are so many distractions that keep me from experiencing Him a lot of times. He told me that my focus needed realignment. Kind of like how a chiropractor might “realign” a client's spinal cord for better circulation. I told God that I would like that. I want to pursue Him and live in faith, not in fear. I'm so thankful for Christ's presence in my life. He's my “daily bread” and the hope I cling to as I pursue my calling in life.

And yes, as I have recently found out, fasting does have its place as part of a healthy, well-balanced diet.

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