If you're like me, you know what fasting is, and you see the value in it, but it's never been "your thing." In fact, you can take one look at me and see that sacrificing a meal or two is not something I regularly do.
In my immature and shallow understanding, fasting was something people did only during Lent or even as a one-time deal on a special occasion l or during some sort of disaster. It never even crossed my mind that people would regularly fast, let alone that some people even fasted for multiple days and weeks in a row. There have been a few mornings I haven't eaten when preparing for blood work, and I gave up secular media once in college and called it a "media fast," but that was the extent of my giving up anything. Fasts, in my ignorance, were reserved for the hardcore (and slightly odd) or for Jesus in the desert. That was until about 40 weeks ago.
Several months ago, God stirred my husband's heart to dedicate some time and effort to this "radical" concept of giving up food. He mentioned it to me a time or two, and I didn't take it too seriously until he told me he wanted to seriously pursue it. Being the "by the book" Christian in the family, I decided it was time to do some research on the topic, so I read some Scripture and studied some reputable websites. In just a few days, I absorbed a great deal of information, and I too began to sense God calling me to make fasting part of my relationship with him.
After further prayer and discussion, the two of us decided to fast together for a day in order to seek God's guidance and revelation for the path our marriage should take, so we picked a day and prepared for it. A few bottles of clear liquid, a mild headache, and an awesome day of prayer and Bible study later, we both felt more satisfied than any earthly food could have made us. More than that, God had placed the beginnings of a huge idea in my heart and mind. What if we made a commitment to long-term fasting and faith that would bring us into a better position to see, know, and understand God's plans for our lives and marriage?
The next week, we decided to fast again, so I spent the day reading specific passages in Scripture about fasting. My concordance referred me to a verse in Zechariah, and as I read it, I just wasn't "feeling it"; it was not what my heart needed in that moment. Then it happened. The verse I was supposed to be reading was in Chapter 8, but a verse I had underlined years ago in Chapter 9 caught my eye: "Come back to the place of safety, all you prisoners who still have hope! I promise this very day that I will repay two blessings for each of your troubles" (Zechariah 9:12). Special delivery straight from the Lord! My husband and I often use the phrase "hostage of hope" to refer to our lives as Christians waiting for better things to come, and in that moment I knew God was showing me its source again with new eyes. Go back to the basics, return to him, learn how to listen and follow, and he will reward our hope and faith by restoring to us not just what we once had but above and beyond. That's when the idea of "fast for freedom: 40 weeks of fulfillment" came to me.
Jesus fasted for 40 days, and while I would love to say I'm dedicated enough to him to do that, I knew that wasn't his plan for my husband and me at the time. Why couldn't we do one day a week for 40 weeks, though? In the Bible, the number 40 symbolizes a time of trial and testing, usually ending in triumph, reward, or fulfillment of some kind.
I grew more and more excited about the idea of an organized fast, so I continued doing research, and God led me to our second "theme" verse, Isaiah 58:6: "This is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people." My husband and I deal very personally with a literal prison, since he is incarcerated, but we're all locked in some kind of prison at one point or another. Injustice, literal and figurative prisons, and burdens of all sorts are around many corners, but God was showing me how to fast and pray for these burdens to be lifted and the chains broken. Regardless of personal specifics, life is full of oppression, but our God is willing and able to break every cord and yoke tying us down!
At this point, I shared the complete idea with my husband, and we decided to commit to fasting and prayer one day a week for 40 weeks, with the general focus "fast for freedom," as we have a genuine heart for families affected by incarceration. Since we are not alone in our journey, we asked both sets of parents and a couple of friends who knew us both well to join us, and they agreed to the slightly overwhelming commitment. We also outlined a specific monthly prayer focus related to our personal situation and incarceration in general in order to address the associated ripple effects it has (children of the incarcerated, victims and their families, how to use our story as a testimony, spouses of inmates, spiritual growth of those affected).
With a theme, focus, check-off calendar, and plan in place, we began. We felt attacked by the devil on all sides. Doubt, sickness, busyness, and temptation flew at all of us like torpedoes. Still we carried on. Along the way, several others joined us on the journey, and what began as our family praying for our own miracle, turned into various families praying for their own affected family members and others. Some of these families even saw loved ones released to go home and received blessings far beyond what was ever expected.
The 40 weeks came and went without any life-changing events in our own situation, and we don't have any specific breakthroughs yet about our personal path, but better than all that, God has given me faith like never before, reminding me he is at work in my husband, in me, in our family, and in our situation. The nine months of fasting were chock full of affirmations and lessons in faith, hope, and miracles. The spiritual growth my husband and I experienced and continue to experience is greater than anything either of us has gone through our whole lives. Breakthrough or not, it is impossible to fast in the right spirit and walk away worse than when you began.
Most important, I have begun to see doors starting to crack open—doors I assumed were dead-bolted shut or hidden down dark, deserted hallways. Even during the last week of the fast, God revealed a little "tidbit" specifically for my heart. I was looking at the fast calendar we were using, and for the first time I realized our fast began on May 25, the very day my husband was sentenced to life in prison. That was the beginning in more ways than one. A day or two later, another piece became clear: the fast ended on February 22. Eight years ago on February 22, he and I had exchanged our first goodbye after our very first prison visit together. Was this perfectly orchestrated by God as a symbolic ending of our (now weekly) goodbyes? God is working, and there is clarity headed our way. Our breakthrough may not be revealed right away, and it may not be what we expect or desire, but I know one thing for sure: No matter what God has in store, his plans for us are going to knock our socks off!
I pray that you're like I was 40 weeks ago, willing to do something "radical" to advance your faith and to consider including fasting in your own spiritual walk and in your marriage. Select a focus, and commit to a time of fasting and prayer as a couple. Dedicate your priorities and your physical need of nourishment to the only true Bread of Life. Deny self and flesh so God can fill the void and reveal more of himself. Take it from a once-upon-a-time-doubter who now simply seeks to point you toward a God who moves when we obey, a God who calls us to return to him so he can restore double to us—there's no way it won't be worth it.
Holly Mickler is a wife, middle-school teacher, coach, and writer who lives in Florida.