Do you know what the hardest thing about fasting is? It’s not the hunger. It’s the ache.
A few years ago I felt led to start fasting along with my prayer. I remember reading that verse in the gospel of Mark where the disciples privately ask Jesus why they could not cast out the demon from the little boy with an unclean spirit. He says, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:29)
When you’re all out of ideas and strategies and strength – maybe it’s This kind.
So I’ve set out again on another prayer and fasting journey – seven days over seven weeks.
You have to start by picking the right day. It can’t be too busy; you’ll need time and energy to really pray. And you need to plan the meal schedule – you need something easy to prepare for the family. And you need to think carefully how you will actually fast. I typically drink water and coffee with milk. I might allow myself a diet soda in the afternoon. And I usually give myself a light dinner, like eggs and toast. So it’s not a total fast.
But it’s still hard. I still wake up in the morning and glumly think, no breakfast today.
But that’s not the hardest thing. It’s not the hunger. It’s the Ache.
For now I must sustain a whole day of Hope. A day when I must articulate a vision of what I’m asking for from God … and plead for it with all I’ve got. I need to look at my heart’s desire all day. I need to speak it. I need to see it – but I can’t reach it.
I don’t want to just Say my prayers. I want to mean them.
I want to stop and Say the things that have been gathering in my heart and weighing me down. To say them slowly and carefully, wrapping them up with good reason and forceful arguments that invariably end with, “Well, how about just because of your faithful love and mercy? How about that?”
All day I’m suspended in a state of longing as I think through all my reasons and scribble furiously in my journal and plead incessantly to the only one who has the power to produce.
And when I’m not in my room with my Bible and journal, I run my errands with a constant conversation in the back of my head, a persistent prayer. I drop off this one, pick up that one.
And all the while … I have to Hope. I have to Hope all day, knowing full well that tomorrow my prayers’ Opposites will likely rise up and jeer at me.
And somewhere in the middle of the afternoon my oldest daughter who has disabilities and no idea that I’m fasting meanders into the kitchen and absently says, “Do you remember Augustine? Do you remember how his mother kept on praying for him?”
Yes, I do. And what were those famous words of the bishop to Monica? “The son of such tears cannot perish.”
To enter a day of prayer and fasting is to enter a day of tears. But it’s also a day of Promise. Because “Those who sow in tears shall weep with shouts of joy!” (Psalm 126:5) And “…call upon me in the day of trouble, I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (Psalm 50:15)
I bring to mind past deliverances and impossible answers to prayer.
And now it’s time to go to bed. The ache is finally gone. (At least for now.) I’ve laid it all at His feet. Like Hezekiah going to the House of the Lord and spreading out that ominous letter before Him.
I’ve read my heart’s desire. I’ve looked the obstacles square in the face. I’ve poured it out before His throne. And now I can rest. Because it’s in His hands.