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My Daniel Fast

I never imagined everything that I’d realize about myself

A few Mondays ago, I inhaled deeply as the warm, earthy scent of brewing coffee wafted gently over several rows of cubicles and wandered toward my nose. I can usually smell coffee brewing, but on this particular day the scent was so strong I could almost see it meandering around the corner and swirling around me, like in a scene from a cartoon.

I stepped over to my desk and flipped open a small black notebook I’d placed next to my keyboard. Uncapping a pen, I wrote the first thing that came to mind:

8:15. Smelling coffee. ARRGH.

That Monday was Day 1 of a 10-day Daniel fast my church was participating in. Inspired by Daniel 10:3, in which Daniel determines to forgo “choice food” in order to demonstrate humility before the Lord and to gain understanding, our pastors called us to eat simple foods for 10 days, and to add additional prayer and Bible study to our daily routines. Refined foods, sugar, dairy, and yeast were out, in favor of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts. Also on the “no” list? Caffeine.

The journal I kept during the first couple days records my adjustment to the routine in stream-of-consciousness style.

Early that morning, I jotted a quick prayer. Because I’ve restricted myself from particular kinds or amounts of food before, I needed help focusing on the spiritual purpose of this fast, rather than any physical benefits that might accompany the healthier diet. I didn’t want to diet when the calling was to fast.

Around 8:30, I noted that I was responding to some minor interruptions with more irritation than I normally would have. I was challenged by the thought that my pleasant demeanor might actually reflect a sated tongue rather than a contented soul.

Mid-morning, I’d started to think about how, by challenging my routine choices, the fast was building some spiritual muscle. “I’m wondering now about my capacity to do hard things,” I wrote. “Have I let that part of me atrophy?”

By 3:45 Monday afternoon, I’d already tired of oatmeal, apples, and lentil soup. I opened the notebook again: “Burrito with shredded chicken and sour cream. I sure hope I start having more spiritual thoughts soon.”

Before the fast began, a friend and I prayerfully decided to increase our intake of Scripture. For me, that meant unearthing some Bible CDs I had and listening to them during a leg of my long daily commute.

As I slid one into the CD player, I recognized my resistance to this change—and realized I often rely on “pre-processed” spiritual insight. My preference is often for music in which someone else has done the hard spiritual work of connecting with God, or for programs in which someone else reflects on his or her interpretation of Scripture and what it means for our lives. Listening to the texts without this kind of mediation was challenging for me. I prayed that God would allow me to crave “unprocessed” encounters with him and with Scripture in the same way I was experiencing physical cravings for a tall, skim vanilla latte.

Although I was pleased when our fast ended nine days later, I was also grateful for the experience, and for the connections it helped me make between my physical and spiritual lives. The challenge of fasting by type of food helped me to think more deeply about issues of physical and spiritual satiety, and to explore the parallels between the pleasure of processed foods and the fleeting satisfaction they provide. I continued to pray for a “fasting” mentality vs. a “dieting” mindset. And as time went on, I enjoyed my unmediated encounters with the Bible more than I had before.

I’m curious: What challenges have you experienced as the result of a fast? What insights has fasting brought to your life, and have they become part of your daily spiritual life? Also, what advice would you offer someone who is beginning to incorporate fasting into her life with God?

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