So . . . the craziness that was last week is finally over. Here I sit at the computer, rather gleefully, because we made it. We had a teen lock-in at the church Friday night. We had a great time! We worked on a painting with 24 names of God on it. They did great. I was so proud. When I have more time I’ll get the picture up on the blog. We put it in the auditorium. In the midst of planning for that I was getting our pumpkin patch covered (only one more day), getting ready for trick or treat, a chili supper . . . and then I dropped the ball imputing Sunday’s worship for today . . . Bryan . . . I hope you’re reading this so you can see how truly crappy I feel. I hate letting people down, but I said yes to one too many thing this week. Sorry dude.
In connection with our lock-in, our youth group participated in the 30 hour famine. I have always wanted to do it, and we finally got a chance. It was great. Our teens did great. I asked them to fast from food beginning with dinner Friday night and breaking the fast Saturday night for dinner. The poor kids . . . their last meal for a day was their school lunch. Most our teens are in middle school, so I wasn’t sure how things would go, but they did great. I am so proud of them. One of our teens was staying with her grandparents who are seldom practicing Catholics. They did not understand the concept and got really angry with their grandaughter. It was a great chance for her to share a part of her faith with them.
It was also a chance for their youth minister (me) to re-orient my life with a fast. 30 hours went by quickly and I really had no problem being without food. It gave me a wonderful chance to consider how much of my life is dominated by food and thinking about food. It was a great time for me to hopefully pick up this important discipline again and incorporate it into my lifestyle.
The idea of fasting runs counter to everything American culture teaches. Not just from the obvious commercial stand points of the American enterprise that is fast food, but also from some not-so-obvious places, like doctors and the American health institutes. If you listen to many American nutrion freaks, they make you think that going without food for a day is the worst possible thing you could do. Quite the contrary, if practiced correctly, fasting can be quite healthy.
Food determines so much in my life. The first thing to come to mind is my schedule. I plan so much of my day around my meal times – not because that is when I am hungry, but that is when I have trained my stomach to create pangs. Hmm, hunger pangs, I must need food. Not so. the worst possible thing you can do is interrupt a person’s meal time. It’s like that time is sacred.
The line to walk when discussing fasting is to ensure you are not speaking well of fasting to the detriment of eating. God made us as creatures who need food for sustenance. We need to eat or we die. And we do not eat simply to survive. We can survive on a piece of bread a day, but no one seriously believes that is what God wants. No, God puts food at the center of the kingdom on earth . . . “Eat this is my body . . . drink this is my blood.” There is nothing wrong with food.
Also, (and this is most difficult for me to get across to the teens) fasting is more than simply “skipping a meal.” Fasting must contain substanance to be fruitful. There must be depth there (depth is something few Christians I know possess . . . perhaps explaining why fasting is so futile for many). Fasting allows for a time of re-orienting, re-directing, and, as Richard Foster likes to say, re-centering. I needed recentered. Through my day without food I realized how many things cloud my view and understanding of God. It allowed me to break through the superficial and chase depth.
I hope to incorporate the discipline more regularly in my life. In the spirit of Matthew 6, I will probably speak infrequently of it from here on out, if at all. However, I encourage those of you who have not fasted ever, or for a long time, to skip a meal or two this week and use that time to consider how rich the mercy of God is and how fickle we as humans are in chasing after him.
* As a side note, in thinking about fasting this weekend and teaching the discipline to teenagers, I, for the first time, was faced with the reality that some teenagers (esp. girls) could see fasting as a cure for a self-image problem. Fasting should never be used as a means for a diet, this is most especially true for teenagers. Fasting is a time to give up food (or something else) for the specific purpose of acknowledging th central role it plays in one’s life, but also acknowledging that the one at the center of life provides so much more. Anyone practicing fasting or thinking about fasting who also has a problem with their self image, should stop and consider their motives, and also consider whether they have a clinical problem.