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An unplanned fast from reading

Lynne Baab • Friday September 6 2019

An unplanned fast from reading

I wrote most of this post on Thursday, August 29 in the morning.

My life consists of a great deal of reading. For work, I write (and read and edit) blog posts and articles. I also read chapters and essays from students. Dave says I’m like a race horse. I work hard and intensely, then I relax a lot. How do I relax? I read novels, nonfiction books, newspapers and blog posts online, magazines, and the Sunday newspaper in paper form.

Imagine my surprise when an ophthalmologist told me last Friday she wanted me not to read for a week. This has to do with the rapid back and forth movement of reading. She wanted my eye to rest from that movement so one place in my eye could heal.

I decided to view it as a Christian fast from reading. When I did the interviews for my book on fasting, I was surprised by how many people described fasts from things other than food – shopping, various forms of media, various electronic devices, eating in restaurants, even makeup. In that book, I defined a Christian fast as the voluntary denial of something for a specific time, for a spiritual purpose, by an individual, family, community or nation.

The initial purpose of my reading fast was medical, not spiritual. But I decided to see what I could learn from God through the fast, so I viewed it as both medical and spiritual.

My husband Dave and I usually eat lunch and dinner together, but I eat breakfast and my afternoon snack alone. I always grab the Sunday newspaper (which takes me most of the week to read since I read it only while eating) or a magazine (at the end of the week) when I eat alone.

The first time I sat at the table to eat alone after my appointment with the ophthalmologist, I looked out the window to my left.

From that window I can see parts of two trees and parts of two bushes close up in our yard, and numerous trees and bushes in the yards of houses across the street. They’re beautiful!  I tried to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation as I ate, and I also pondered the fact that in two years in this house, I had never looked out the window as I ate. The reflex to pick up something to read is so strong.

I found myself wondering how many good things I’m missing because of habitual behaviors that focus my attention elsewhere. I wondered what gifts from God I am missing. I found myself praying about this, so this alone fulfilled a spiritual purpose for me. But there was a second area of spiritual challenge.

Figuring out what to do when I'm finished working has been hard. I don’t like TV. I don’t like to be read to, so I have no desire to try books on tape. I finally settled on podcasts and music videos. But by last night I was irritable and longing for a novel. I mean, really really longing for a novel. Although a nice leisurely time in a newspaper, online or on paper, would have worked.

I thought back on one of the moving interviews I conducted for my book on fasting. This man fasted from food every Monday, and he talked about how poorly he deals with deprivation. He said he had fasted on Mondays for a long time, but he had never gotten used to it.

The purpose of his fast was to identify with people in need. Indeed, his painful sense of deprivation on Mondays had fueled his prayers and his compassion. Last night, when I was going crazy with longing for a novel, I tried to spend some time praying for people who can’t read or who have very little to read. I also prayed for those who can’t see.

I wrote the rest of this post on Wednesday, September 4.

When I saw the ophthalmologist the afternoon after I wrote the words above, she told me the place in my eye had healed. Not only could I read, she wanted me to read a lot, because the back and forth movement might help to heal another part of my eye.

I was stunned. I had expected her to say to begin reading slowly, or perhaps not to read at all for another week. The abrupt end to my fast, and my disorientation for several days after I could start reading again, illustrates some significant things about ending fasts. More on that next week.

Illustration by Dave Baab: Me on my Sabbath day. I welcome new subscribers. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below (for cell phones) or in the right hand column of the webpage (for laptops).

My book on fasting is here. Some articles I’ve written about fasting:



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