‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Matthew 6:25
I did it again. This morning, as I busily went through the process of exercising, dressing children and making beds, I forgot to eat before sunrise. Get ready for another hungry day.
So far, today has been different from the last time I missed breakfast on a fasting day. Today I was hungry to begin with. I didn’t have to wait for it. I have had less opportunity to philosophize about hunger and more time to feel it.
All morning, my stomach has been making polite suggestions as to how this problem of emptiness can be solved. “Look, there is that unopened bag of cashews you bought at the grocery store. That could help you resolve this hunger problem.” “Putting gas in the car? I happen to know they sell candy bars at the counter. Just saying.” I find myself instinctively coming up with ways to alleviate this hunger before remembering that I am hungry on purpose.
What I didn’t mean to be was grumpy, but I find that’s coming out too. I am realizing that the discipline involved in fasting also means making behavioral choices that are appropriate when I least feel like making them. Irritability may be a natural reaction to hunger, but it cannot force me to behave irritably. I have the choice to discipline my actions and behave pleasantly if I want to, though I am not sure I do – still more self-awareness gained from spiritual practice. I am finding, in fact, that lots of bad habits come to the surface when we're hungry. Any time we are under stress, we will revert to our most comfortable and well-practiced behaviors, whether they are good or bad. Fasting may give us a good opportunity to observe ourselves at our most honest, whether we mean to be or not.
Most of all, fasting is teaching me about what I need and what I don’t. Right now, my stomach is screaming at me, telling me that it isn’t getting what it needs, though it is; that it is dying, though it isn’t. My conscious mind knows that I am not going to perish from a day without food, but I think my stomach has named the fear that really is at the heart of it all. What happens if we don’t have enough? If our needs aren’t met? We can die.
This is Holy Week. We are taking the slow but now short walk toward crucifixion, toward death. We would be foolish not to be afraid. And yet, somehow my fearful stomach and our terrified world must learn that death as we know it is not to be feared. God’s promise is to nourish both our bodies and the spirit of life that has been breathed into us. Even in death, neither will be lost for good.
Truth be told, my body has all the resources it needs to continue even if I went hungry for days. It has stores of energy (more than I would like) that it can easily draw upon. And, of course, I will be eating again before the day is over.
We funny human beings are so afraid of want. We are terrified of scarcity, which is strange since most of us have never really experienced it. We have, however, a God who has provided us with all that we need and even given us wisdom to aid us in making sure this provision gets around to everyone, though we sadly fall short in using it. But trusting that we have enough, even in the face of evidence to the contrary, is at the heart of faith. We trust God to do God’s part, so we can turn our minds to the assignment of being God’s people in the world.