Face down in a moldy old tent, God invited an 18-year-old washed out drug addict to join His family. In a matter of moments years of addiction to drugs and alcohol was replaced by an overwhelming hunger for God. Hours a day alone in my small bedroom studying scripture and singing praises on my knees, Wednesday night pray meetings, street ministry, two years of Bible College, all marked the first years of faith. Jesus was all I talked about.
Years later, what happened?
The days of my youth were wonderfully uncluttered and simple. There were no kid’s report cards, car payments, home repairs, concerns with job promotion or the challenges of marriage. Slowly over time, a life of spirituality was replaced by busyness. Daily cares choked to death intimacy with my Father. It happened so slowly, I didn't even notice, until the emptiness could no longer be ignored.
Without intimacy there was no real sense of purpose. And like so many who lose their purpose, I turned to a more immediate fulfillment. Throughout my twenty’s I carefully cultivated a major dependency on junk food, trying to fill the empty hole left by a God I had pushed away. A wiry teenage body transformed into an overripe pear. Prayer was replaced by eight different kinds of chocolate bars stockpiled in my drawer. Street Ministry was replaced with Saturday night Hockey, supplemented by a large bag of salt and vinegar potato chips and candy coated peanuts, Bible reading substituted for a two-kilogram tub of butterscotch ice cream. My covert stash and I met regularly, intense moments of escape from intimacy gone dry. Not knowing it at the time, I had replaced the drug addiction of my early years with a different type addiction, junk food. I crawled into bed with the very things I once hated and consequently began hating myself. Deep inside the flame still burned demanding honest purpose but the flesh had its demands too in the worst form of self-violation.
This compromise was a great offence to me; I wanted to be free. Just in the nick of time, after 13 years of a slow spiritual ice age, I discovered fasting. God was calling His lost son home and I answered with a 30 day fast.
On the second day of the fast it was clear I had a problem. The props of junk food gone, I had to believe Jesus would nourish the empty ache within. Over the years I had become a divided heart, two well-developed opposites of desire. This has tainted the whole of my Christian life. Yes, there have been moments where God’s perfect purpose and my passion had become one. They were moments of grand Presence, harmony with my best self. Yet fear of totally giving in to God’s captivating Spirit stopped me from letting go of the other. But like any good Lover, God had not given up. The first days of the fast mostly involved regret and repentance. Like mighty waves, God’s grace washed every regret away leaving a freshness of spirit. My praying changed. It became deeper and longer. My desire for junk-food and TV subsided. I started to delight again in reading the Bible and meditating on the Lord. The vision that I received years ago started to burn again. I began reaching out to people in a way I had never known before. Instead of being cranky, there was a deeper love and compassion flowering in my heart. These awakened feelings reminded me of a forgotten youth, I felt like a teenager again, spiritually alive. Worldly cares became silly and frivolous.
A caffeine dependency was braking, salt levels in the blood were balancing and years of mucus build-up eliminated. Waste from years of hot dogs and fries was being burned up in the cannibalizing state, causing me to feel sick, headachy and emotionally horrible, until finally it exited my body. In other words, I was going through a physical metamorphosis. These periods were great tests. There was periods of joy contrasted by internal turmoil and confusion. At times the fast became meaningless and empty. The mind would flood with doubt and confusion.
A week into the fast, I was obligated to go to a birthday party, committed myself before I knew that I was going to fast. There was a sense of fragility that I feared in dealing with the attitudes of people. I wanted to keep my focus on Jesus. Ideally when spiritually fasting, solitude is the best environment. I knew that there would be questions as to why I was losing weight and not eating.
I walked in the door, sat down in the living room and watched the procession of people. At first people were gracious, gently asking me if I would like something to eat. I declined graciously. Then the questions came. They started asking me how I felt that not eating could help me be closer to God. I tried to answer the questions without becoming defensive. But as questions increased, graciousness decreased.
What are you trying to prove by starving yourself? At one point, someone who I loved and respected waggled their finger in my face and said, you look horrible. There is no way God would call someone to look like you’re looking. Now come on and have something to eat.
All this happened within the first 20 minutes of the birthday party. You can imagine how it felt, sitting there realizing that it would be four or five hours before the party would be over. First came the roast beef with succulent gravy. Then potatoes lightly browned under the broiler. There were salads, dinner rolls, vegetables, jelly molds, pickles, olives, and everything else pleasing to the eye. And then came the noises—the chewing, the slurping, the oohing and ahhing, isn't this roast beef tender? And then the looks of pity, guilt, and how can he sit there and not eat anything when there is all this good food in front of him? I took a mouthful of tasteless, chlorinated water and asked the Lord to give me strength.
Looking back on it now I can chuckle but at the time, it was a truly horrible trial of discipline. I found that I became more focused on not eating food than fasting unto the Lord. The fast had become foolish. But when I went home and spent quiet time in prayer, the whole reason for fasting—to know Jesus, regained purpose and meaning.
It was not always easy. Physically, I had days of vigor and energy. Other days when the body is detoxifying, I experienced cloudiness of the mind and lethargy. These periods were times of great trial. Yet God taught me to trust in His character. I learned not to trust in how I felt.
After the fast people asked me, “did the fast bring about permanent changes in your life?” With joy I can say, yes! Even in youth, I have not known better health or clarity of mind. My diet? I am now a vegetarian. If it’s not natural, I don't eat it. I exercise regularly and have not gained one pound of the 33 pounds of weight that I lost during the fast. I have never felt so energetic and healthy in all my life. Besides all this, I enjoy eating more than ever before. Of course, the work is far from over. Fasting has become an important component to spiritual maintenance. When earthy cares start crowding out intimacy with God, resulting in the “empties,” the quiet space of fasting calls me home once again.
Ten Years Later
There is a strange sense of conclusion, like turning the page and finding you are halfway through an absorbing novel. Forty years old! I have grown more at peace, don’t take things so seriously, matured, tamed impulsiveness, and for all its glitzy flash, the real face of sin has been laid bare to me, and just in time. I have found and lost meaningful things.
Yet still I am a divided heart. Two well-developed opposites of desire. This has tainted the whole of my life. Yes, there have been moments where God’s perfect purpose and my passion have become one. They were moments of grand Presence, harmony with my best self, yet fear of totally giving in to God’s captivating Spirit has stopped me from letting go of the other. Like any good Lover, God has not given up. His work continues, humbling, stripping, disciplining, wooing, gently speaking through the Word and circumstances, wearing down resistance, until I let go.
I am so close now, stripped of props and alone from people. There is only God and myself. We stand face to face. And He asks of me the same question He asked me twenty-two years ago. Do you love me more than these?
Yes Lord. You know I do.
God moves closer, His beseeching breath upon my cheek; then feed my sheep.
Yes Lord. Yes!
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