“This is the big one, Elizabeth!”
I could feel it. It had to be the fasting.
Okay, it was only fasting from Words With Friends… for a week. But it’s harder than it sounds. For a Sunday School lesson on the fruit of self-control and a week focused on the spiritual discipline of fasting, it seemed like a good choice. Trust me, a meal would not be missed near as much as the soft guttural “Droid” sounding from my phone, inviting me to play.
Nothing sedates my mind and my spirit quite like the games on my phone. Or is a better tool for procrastination. It’s like a fifteen minute vacation from reality that my husband insists is closer to forty-five. And I had to choose something to fast from because, well, I’m the leader and I can only keep referring back to the time I fasted with a group in college the night before the evangelist came on campus but so many times. Twenty hungry sophomores desperate for a soul to be saved so they could run to Tom’s and devour a burger is not a particularly inspiring tale.
Words With Friends, Backgammon, Kakuro… gone. One week. I know what you’re thinking. How lame. And yet, the minute the fast began I was incredibly anxious. Displaced, almost. My reflex action had been removed and I had to find a new normal to fill that void. Presumably with God, as that was the point of the discipline, after all. It’s not that I’m addicted to the games or anything. (I can stop at any time.) But it is amazing how we let some things consume our time or our thinking. (Did you know that QIS and QAT count as words?) How we let so much distract us and keep the space around us and inside of us filled… so that it is hard to be still … hard to hear God… hard to listen… for God, hard to rest… in God.
We say we want to draw closer to God yet when we actually create the time and the space to draw near, it can be an anxious, uncomfortable moment. Empty, at first. We want to fill it with something, something more familiar, something comfortable. Instead of availing ourselves to God to be filled.
The conversation in my head was disturbing. “I don’t really HAVE to do this. No one can MAKE me fast.” It’s kind of like running that last mile for me – “I could walk if I wanted to. No one’s the boss of me.” Who knew my spiritual will had the maturity of a two year old… self-soothing with Sudoku.
Sadly, I’m not alone in this. My accountability group sounded more like Remedial Spirituality 101. “I mean, we don’t have to fast just because it says so in the book,” one person reminded me with increasing passion in her voice. Jacob had nothing on my other friend who wrestled courageously with God to not give up her daily coffee. Many, of course, decided that reading about fasting was sacrificial enough. Nobody likes a middle aged radical, anyway.
But as the days unfolded, I slowly filled in the “game” time with prayer. I read more news about events in the world and allowed God to help make me more mindful of others. A peace settled in.
Upon surrendering her coffee mug, my friend told God that she had a lot to do that day and she couldn’t afford to be tired or to feel bad, so, “This one’s on You.” Amazingly, God was big enough to handle it: no fatigue, no headache; a remarkable clarity and ability, actually. Who knew God had that kind of power?
As the week was coming to a close and I was on a hike with my family in the mountains, I just knew, when it happened, that the fasting was “paying off;” that this was going to be one of those moments that I had only read about.
About 30 yards from the waterfall we were hiking to, I suddenly got cell service and my phone vibrated, letting me know I had a voice mail. I stepped off the trail to return the call as my family moved on ahead. When I stepped back on the trail, a woman stood there looking at me.
“Is your name Jayne?”
Instant pastor panic. I must know this person but for the life of me I can’t place her face. And what is ‘Whatshername’ doing in Tennessee, anyway?!
“How do you spell it?”
Since I spell Jayne with a ‘y’ I was becoming intrigued. I spelled my name and the woman smiled and said, “I have a message for you.”
This is it! God is sending me someone to give me a message! I’ve heard about experiences like this. How awesome!
“What is your last name?” she asked. I told her, becoming more anxious for her to get to the good stuff. (Of course I knew it would all be good. God wouldn’t send me any bad news. I’d been fasting!)
She smiled and called to someone else a few feet up the trail.
“Pam, I found her.”
Pam turned and looked at me, her eyes widening as she checked me out as if to see if I would be a suitable choice… for what I had no idea. A grin appeared on her face.
This was going to be sooo good!
Pam walked toward me and asked, “Did you lose something?”
It took me several seconds to realize this was not a spiritual question. I could literally hear balloons deflating somewhere inside of me.
I reached around and felt for my credit card in my back pocket, trying not to look disappointed. Pam and her friend had found it a few hundred yards down the trail and had been searching for “Jayne” for the last 20 minutes.
Pam elbowed Bob, her husband, and nodded in my direction. Reluctantly Bob reached into his pocket and pulled out a $10 bill.
“I guess you lost this, too,” he said, handing it to me. I told him to keep it for their trouble and persistence in trying to find me and he looked like he thought that was a fine idea, but Pam elbowed him again and he ‘insisted’ that I take it.
Who’d have thought I’d be so disappointed to be so lucky to get my credit card and cash back in the middle of the Great Smoky Mountains National Forest? My friends insist that it really was God sending a message to me. I was hoping for something a little more personal. Prophetic even. And I fully suspect if it really was God, my credit card would have come back to me mutilated by a bear for my own good.
Of course I know better than to think that God rewards fasting. But like any spiritual discipline, fasting creates room for us to let God in. When the door is shut and we keep God on the outside with our busyness and our preoccupation and our frenetic activity, we don’t realize what we’re missing. But when we stop and open the door, even a crack, even for no longer than it takes to play a simple game on a phone, we catch a glimpse of God’s silhouette in the doorway and allow ourselves to feel how much we long for him to come near; to come inside and sit for a while and speak a word just to us.
Just yesterday I received an email from a friend of mine in prison. She invited me to fast with her on Tuesdays as she trusts in God to bring her home. In some ways she is more free than many of us, because she knows from where her strength and hope must come. We try so many other things first.
“I have a message for you,” God whispers through the crack in the doorway of our life. “Come sit with me a while and let me tell you.”