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Ending a fast

Lynne Baab • Friday September 13 2019

Ending a fast

I talked with a youth minister about the 30 hour famine sponsored by World Vision. He had led it with many groups of high school students. This youth leader was excited about what his students learned as they fasted from food in solidarity with the hungry in our world.

He said that one of the biggest challenges was ending the fast. The students wanted to gorge. If they did, they would often would get stomach aches.

This youth leader had learned over many years that preparing for the end of the fast was just as important as preparing to begin the fast. A moderate celebratory meal at the end of the 30 hours, coupled with some reflective conversation, worked much better than a wild pizza pig out. But the students had to be on board with this plan in order for it to work, and that required advance preparation.

That issue was reinforced to me two weeks ago, when I abruptly ended my fast from reading, which I described last week. I had thought that the doctor would tell me to do it a second week or to begin to read slowly. Instead, she told me that reading might be good for my eye. Dive back in, she said.

The afternoon and evening after the visit with the doctor, as well as the following day, were packed with activities. A part of me was longing to read for a few hours, and another part of me was scared to jump back into reading. Perhaps I wouldn’t like is as much as I had before. Had something changed because I had listened to so many podcasts and music videos for a week?

When I finally had time, two days later, to read for a while, it felt weird. To my surprise, I continued to feel off balance and disoriented whenever I read for the better part of a week.

I realized that I hadn’t fully processed what I had learned from my fast. I felt a bit ashamed and distant from God, as if God had given me a creative and challenging opportunity, and I had embraced it with a good attitude, but I hadn’t fully run the course by reflecting afterwards.

Many of the people I interviewed for my book on fasting talked about making time after a fast to process what happened and to reflect on the learning. That’s what I omitted. My fast ended, I had a really busy couple of days with little time for reflection, and then I jumped back into reading without reflecting or praying very much about what had happened in that week.

One of the things that surprised me most when I did the interviews for my book on fasting was the strong emphasis many experienced fasters put on the time before and after a fast. They talked about preparing alone or with others, planning the topics of prayer ahead of time, and arranging contact times with fasting partners. (Frankly, before I did the interviews, I thought all fasting had to be alone. I was stunned by how many people fast with others.)

Many interviewees talked about how God changed their prayers during the fast, but their realization of God’s work in that way depended on having had a clear sense of what to pray for going into the fast. They noted that their fasting partners helped them interpret what God was saying to them in the fast. The fast itself is only part of the whole fasting process. Planning ahead and reflection afterwards make the experience fuller and richer, and God’s work in the fast can be discerned.

Despite interviewing dozens of people about fasting and writing a book and numerous articles about what I learned, two things impeded a strong end to my reading fast. One of them was not knowing the timing of the end of it, something I had no control over, but which matters. Secondly, I would have been so much better off, as soon as the doctor told me to begin reading, if I had looked at my calendar and planned some time for reflection, journaling and prayer.

In some ways, you – my precious blog readers – have functioned as my fasting partners. Last week I wrote down what I experienced during my fast from reading, and this week I’m writing about the time afterwards. Writing helps me clarify my thoughts, and these blog posts are helping me discern what God was and is teaching me. Thank you for reading.

Next week: the surprise of fasting. Illustration by Dave Baab. I welcome new subscribers. To get an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” below or in the right hand column of the whole web page.

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

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