22 March 2007

The Red Pill: An Excursion in Fasting

These are my follow-up thoughts to this post: The Matrix of Merrymaking.

In the movie, The Matrix, Neo chooses to swallow Morpheus's red pill and learn the truth about the Matrix and it's purposes. (It's quite dark and sinister purposes, I might add.) Through understanding the Matrix and unplugging himself from it, Neo gains power over it. By the end of the movie, he is able to move effortlessly in and out of the Matrix, bending its rules and using it to perform his purposes, rather than being its slave.

The Bible Study I'm involved in, Mocha on the Mount, recently discussed Jesus' words in Matt. 6:1-18.

I have always seen an upward scale of difficulty with this passage of Scripture.

I start out relatively easily. On the bunny slope, if you will.
"When you give..." It's easy to give out of my abundance. When I've got $100 in my pocket, tossing a fiver in the plate barely raises a blip on my screen. I can share a lick of my ice cream cone with you. I will willingly donate old clothing, and at times might even go out and buy brand new items, for someone in need.

Then things get a bit harder.
"When you pray..." Focusing my attention and time on something other than myself and my own will ups the ante. I have to be a little more engaged. I have to consciously think about someone besides Yours Truly. I have to put myself aside and take someone else to the throne of grace. All this, with the likelihood that no one else is watching my "performance."

Now comes the double black diamond slope. Not for the faint of heart.
"When you fast..." Fasting calls for marshalling my will, my attention, AND my physical comfort all in the direction of something and someone BEYOND me. For an extended period of time. Without an adoring audience.

There's also a pattern to what Christ says in Matt. 6. When.
"When you give..." God does not NEED my gifts. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills.
"When you pray..." God does not NEED my prayers to inform Him of the situation. He already knows the intricacies of every cell of every being on every planet. He knows the strife and conflict of every relationship. He knows the groaning that even my own spirit can't recognize or define.
"When you fast..." God does not NEED my fasting. He's got it all. He knows it all. He's been through it all.

Then why did Jesus say, "When you do these things..." if He doesn't really need me to do them? (Rhetorical question.)
(Rhetorical answer.) Because of what these actions do for me and within me. Something is supposed to happen to my perspective when I give, pray and fast.

Our study guide suggested that we plan to fast for one meal through the course of the week.
I did not want to fast!! Which is exactly why I felt like I needed to do it.

I've tried to find a loophole for this for a long time- pregnant, nursing, not feeling called to it, etc. Some of those are quite valid reasons, and some of those (because I know my own heart on this matter) were nothing more than smokescreens. I'd never felt a huge onus to fast just because someone else said I should fast. But this time was different. This time I was under the thumb of the Holy Spirit. A great big supernatural thumb squishing my smokescreens to nothingness. In the most loving and faithful way possible, of course.

So a few weeks ago I fasted for one meal. I asked my husband to be the dinner guy while I headed into our bedroom for a prayer closet/fasting "combo." (Prayer closets are hard for me to find these days too. It never fails that the munchkins barge in, slide love notes under the door, and generally wonder loudly and incessantly when I'm going to be done.)

All throughout the week, I contemplated what to pray for and how to focus my time so it would be the most useful to God. I didn't know what to bring to my prayer closet with me- should I take every book, Bible, pencil and CD in the house, or take nothing at all? I didn't know what I was going to do while I prayed and fasted. I didn't know how I was supposed to be. I wanted the time to be special and different. But I wasn't clear on how that was going to look.

Well, there were no celestial fireworks or heavenly visions. My three year old banged on the door a few times. I got slightly distracted on occasion. I noticed my tummy growling and thought, "Gee, I'm hungry. As soon as I finish this I'm going to go fix a snack." The I'd remember what I was supposed to be doing in the first place ("Fasting, ya big dummy!") and God and I had a good chuckle over my fickleness and forgetfulness.
Then my stomach would rumble 4 minutes later, and I'd think THE SAME THING AGAIN! (And again we'd chuckle together over it.)

I prayed for several issues and people that had been on my heart.
I read through the fasting section of Celebration of Discipline.
I re-read Matthew 6 and the entire Sermon on the Mount.
Then just reflected on what fruit fasting might produce in me.
Why I should fast.
What silly trifles I've allowed to distract me from the Lord.
Asking Jesus to let me see what he sees in me.
In short, I expected Him to show up and do some work.
I was not disappointed.

A quote in my Mocha book says,
"We pray for those who are hungry every day, for those who never know the privilege of a fast because they are forced to starve."
For this plump American rich girl, fasting need not be painful, monotonous, inconvenient or a drudgery... fasting is a privilege. An opportunity to see God's abundant provision that I take for granted. An opportunity for me to choose to unplug myself from the Matrix of Merrymaking in order to consider the spiritual and physical poverty in the rest of the world. And, to be brutally honest with myself, the poverty that still resides within my own flesh.

And that, actually, was my big revelation from my fasting and prayer excursion. I AM ENTIRELY TOO FOCUSED ON THE PHYSICAL WORLD AND HOW IT AFFECTS ME. I am entirely too focused on me. Period.

That red pill. Neo swallowed it and saw the truth of the Matrix. Spiritually speaking, giving, praying and fasting are like that same red pill. Once I commit to swallow it and choose something beyond my comfortable day-to-day, my perspective changes and I can see the Matrix of Merrymaking for what it truly is. No longer a slave to that Matrix, God gives me the power to rise above its pull and use it for my purposes (enjoying the gifts of my Creator and gaining physical sustenance), and ultimately for His purposes.
It took me a long time to swallow that red pill. I'm glad I finally did though.


Anonymous dorothy said...


I found your blog through LL Barkat's Seedlings blog. So glad I stopped by. As a sometimes reluctant faster this past year, I have been on a similar journey in fasting as you so clearly wrote about. What a blessing it is when the Lord allows us to see things as they really are and invites us to participate with Him!

12:39 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Erin, wow, you render me almost speechless (see, even when I'm speechless, I manage to say something!).

This is so beautifully expressed I just want to keep it.

1:21 PM  
Blogger Lance said...

A while back, Jeni and I came across an old friend, whom we had not seen in quite a while. In the course of our conversation, she talked about how the Lord was changing her, especially in the area of anger.
She told us that this change began and continued when she started the practice of fasting every Tuesday.
That's the short version, but it intrigued us both to hear that this discipline was they key for this woman, who had, for so many years, tried to battle the flesh in other, ineffective ways.
I cannot remember how or why fasting was the key that unlocked this door for her, and she certainly wasn't doing it as a "work." But in a mysterious way, this discipline helped (is helping) her to kill the flesh.

Thanks for writing on it.

9:39 AM  

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