Isaiah 55:1-3; 6-7
1″Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
2 Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
3 Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David.”
6 Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”
I don’t know what the statute of limitations is on writing about having fasted. The Sermon on the Mount doesn’t offer much guidance in terms of whether it’s ok to talk about your fast after the fact, even in a reflective context.
I bring this up not to bolster my church-lady street cred, but to share a little of my journey. I did not grow up in a tradition that observes Ash Wednesday or even Lent. Over the years, as I have been part of churches that observe this season, I have fasted from social media and being too fashion-obsessed. But fasting from food on Ash Wednesday is something that is still new to me. It might be new to many of you as well.
It was a game-time decision to fast from food this past Ash Wednesday. Having done it before, I hoped that it would again be a faith-deepening exercise, but I also was wary of my motives. Was I just fasting because I “should”? Or was I doing it because I wanted to devote more time to prayer?
My hopes were not in vain.
As Rebecca wrote on Tuesday, “When all of my impulses are satisfied, at least on the surface level, I don’t dig deep into those longings and find what will satisfy my soul.”
I don’t like to be hungry. I try to eat every three-to-four hours and because I’m very health conscious, I avoid sugar or empty calories.
But during my fast, I let myself not just be hungry, but to feel it. I tried to sip coffee or tea or water throughout the day, but none of it would satisfy me. They couldn’t. Not because they’re not good (God knows–because God invented it–coffee is VERY good), but because their purpose is not to alleviate hunger. They can’t do for my body what food can do.
Of course this physical hunger is to remind us of our spiritual hunger. As I reflected on the insufficiency of coffee to feed my body, I was able–maybe for the first time–to feel a new measure of my spiritual need. Friendship, love, career success, achievement, material wealth, power/influence, wine, and yes, even coffee, are all great and wonderful things. But they can’t stave off the pangs of hunger in our souls, not really. They’re not suited to the task. Only Jesus can fill that hunger and he offers not just spiritual “wine and milk at no cost,” he offers himself as spiritual food. In the Anglican church, the Eucharistic liturgy tells us to “feed on [Christ] in your hearts by faith.” And as the 17th century monk Brother Lawrence wrote in The Practice of the Presence of God:
“I consider myself as the most wretched of men. I am full of faults, flaws, and weaknesses, and have committed all sorts of crimes against his King. Touched with a sensible regret I confess all my wickedness to Him. I ask His forgiveness. I abandon myself in His hands that He may do what He pleases with me. My King is full of mercy and goodness. Far from chastising me, He embraces me with love. He makes me eat at His table. He serves me with His own hands and gives me the key to His treasures. He converses and delights Himself with me incessantly, in a thousand and a thousand ways. And He treats me in all respects as His favorite.”
This invitation is not just for Brother Lawrence, but for all of us. Even snangry (Snarky+Hangry) Juliet.
Which is all very nice, but taking God up on this cosmic invitation puts me in a position of weakness. Which I hate. And which is absurd because in the great tally between God and me, I’m never, ever going to get to call it even. And even if I could…there’s the Almighty GOD and then there’s, well, snangry little Juliet.
After a few hours of fasting, even the easiest of tasks started to feel monumental. By the end of the day, I was finding it nearly impossible to focus on anything I was doing. I found myself praying throughout the day–short, needy prayers, natch–for help. Because I couldn’t stop myself from feeling snangry. I couldn’t focus on my work.
My physical hunger impeded my life. I was dependent on God to get me through it. It made me wonder how much my spiritual “low blood sugar” impeded my life. How many things am I powering through, trying to do on my own, when Jesus stands ready to save and help me?
This season of Lent is a 40-day invitation from God to stop spending our resources on what doesn’t satisfy, to let ourselves feel our hunger and need for Jesus, and to turn from our spiritual junk food to eat with him at his table. And this isn’t just about us-–as Brother Lawrence pointed out, it pleases God to be with us too. May we all get to experience what it is like for God to delight himself in us and to let him treat us as his favorite.
Do/Pray: What do you do when someone invites you to dinner? You RSVP yes or no. What would happen if we took this invitation seriously and said yes to God and asked him to make it a reality?
Loving and Gracious God it’s utterly mind-blowing to us that you are so mindful of us. It’s mind-blowing that you love us so deeply that you’d send your perfect Son to live and die as one of us so that we could be reconciled to you. It’s mind-blowing that you could actually delight in and enjoy us. We confess we don’t understand this and many times we don’t like it. And we repent for trying to fill our need of you with so many good, but lesser things. Please have mercy on us and forgive us. Thank you for this gracious invitation to come and dine with you. We don’t know how to accept this from you. At times, we may not even believe it’s real or possible. But we ask that you’d make this feast, with you, a reality in our lives today and every day. Help us to delight ourselves in you. Become the desire of our heart. In Jesus’ name Amen.
This piece has been modified since it’s original publication.