I’m tired. I don’t look terribly well. But much more than that, I’m hungry.
As I write this, I’m 23 and a half hours into a one-day fast, during which the plan was to allow nothing apart from tap water to pass my lips. About two hours in, I realised that my life and work are almost entirely propped up by my regular morning caffeine hit, and so I had to change the rules to prevent myself from slipping into a coma. But coffee apart, I’ve done it. The end is in sight.
It wasn’t easy. In fact, this morning started to feel more and more like a cosmic joke. When I arrived at my London train terminal, I was greeted by the astonishing sight of a band of people handing out free doughnuts (trust me: that’s never happened before). When I arrived at work, I was quickly met by the sight of the most delicious looking cake I’ve ever seen, baked for a colleague’s birthday. And when another colleague broke open a huge box of chocolates, I felt certain that someone, somewhere was having a laugh at my expense.
I’d chosen to fast as this week’s God52 challenge; and having heard so many other people’s stories of struggle and endeavour with the task, I knew that this wasn’t going to be one that I could ‘accidentally’ fail by default. I had a deeper motivation than that too; there’s a specific area of my life in which I long for breakthrough: a person dear to me who I desperately want to see experience the love and relationship offered by God. So today, instead of eating, I prayed for that person.
This wasn’t anything like as easy as I’d imagined. You would think, from reading Richard Foster, that fasting enables and eases focused prayer. As a novice, I can only report that the opposite seemed true. My rumbling stomach became a distraction from midday onwards. My prayers were much briefer; much more desperate than I’d hoped. Yet my mind did build a quick and meaningful connection between my physical hunger, and my urgency for God to move. I felt the pain of that situation much more keenly; felt more compelled to cry out more loudly about it.
At the same time, my mind drifted a little. I found myself thanking God that this hunger I felt would only be temporary (I cannot tell you, dear reader, how appetising the as-yet-untoasted bagel on my kitchen sideboard looks right now). For millions upon millions around the world, agonising hunger is a daily fact of life. That trite sentiment feels a little less heard-it-all-before when the pit of your stomach is crying out to be fed. Today, I felt just a little more compassion, because in some small way, I forced myself to ‘suffer with’ those who go without every day. I cannot tell you how lucky I feel to be able to call a halt to this hunger (and of course, that was within my power all along).
There’s been something else, something almost unquantifiable, about today though. At little moments – unexpected ones – I have felt closer to the presence of God than I can remember. He has been on the tip of my tongue all day; I have wanted to talk to him, and about him, far more than would usually be the case. The absence of the physical food that I take for granted has created a sort of vacuum into which He has moved. I don’t pretend to understand that; I don’t really understand the mystery of fasting when it’s described in the Bible. But I did experience it. And guess what? I’m hungry for more of that, in spite of the painful cost.
I’m tired. So very tired. Someone told me tonight that I look a little pale. And above all, I’m hungry. While in a moment, I intend to break my fast, I hope in one sense at least, that hunger remains.