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Without is a four-part theological reflection series about what God showed to me during my Lenten fasts. I write in hopes that God may speak to you through my witness. Today’s post is part three. Click here to read part one (about my unplanned fast from writing), and here to read part two (about fasting from social media).

“So…what can you eat?” my husband asks.

Shashlik of the vegan kind

Shashlik of the vegan kind (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’d heard some of my clergy friends talking about the Daniel Fast. One went through it with his congregation at the beginning of the New Year. Another went through it with her congregation for Lent last year. Combined with intentional prayer and Scripture reading and meditation, the Daniel Fast was a powerful experience for both pastors and congregations. Feeling led by the Spirit, I decided to give it a go for Lent.

Briefly, the Daniel Fast is a “vegan diet with even more restrictions.” In a nutshell…

  • No meat, fish, or eggs
  • No dairy products
  • No natural or artificial sweeteners
  • No nut butters (unless it’s nuts and salt only)
  • Only water to drink — no alcohol, no caffeine, no herbal tea, no juice
  • No leavened bread

“Prophet Daniel” Image Credit: Orthodox Church in America (at http://www.oca.org), copyright 1996-2013.

The Fast, as the name suggests, is based on fasts that the Hebrew prophet Daniel underwent. In Daniel 1, we see that the prophet ate only vegetables and drank only water, as not to defile himself by eating or drinking from King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon’s table. Later, Daniel 10 reveals that the prophet eats “only plain and simple food, no seasoning or meat or wine” as he mourns for Jerusalem upon whom war is coming.

Important info: I am a happy carnivore who enjoys a glass of wine (or a fresh lime juice, sangria swirl margarita) with dinner. I love a flavorful, fresh bread, and sharp cheese that gets you at the jowls with its strong flavor. I’m southern, so I live on iced tea. Oh, and I have a sweet tooth, too. If I would have read about the Daniel Fast at all, I might have run for cover well before Ash Wednesday. As it stands, though, I didn’t research it. The Holy Spirit knew what She was doing when She barred me from knowing anything about what I’d already committed to in prayer.

It was a rough go at first. (Ahem…understatement.) My stomach expressed its consternation at me through grumbles and churning. I almost blacked out after a Zumba class. As much as I like water, I quickly grew bored with it. And who can forget (my family surely not) my gastrointestinal um … “challenges,” thanks to all the beans I was eating? Oy vey! But, eventually God and I settled into a good rhythm. Credit goes to the prayer, Scripture reading, and meditation.

There is nothing convenient about the Daniel Fast. There are no pre-packaged meals ala Nutrisystem that make it easy to eat while on this fast. Most foods that come in a bag or wrapper have ingredients that are not allowed. A person must plan each of her meals and snacks. Very few drive-thrus have Daniel Fast approved items. (My family was fasting from eating out, anyway. More on that in the fourth and final Without post.)

As much as this bothered and cramped me at first, the inconvenience of the Fast ended up being its biggest blessing, the window through which God had me look through to show me how I had previously been living.

Frantic, on-the-go Mom
I was going through life on hurried auto pilot, and whisking my children along with me. Quick snacks for my girls that they need to unwrap (organic and low sugar and sodium, yes, but on-the-go nonetheless) were eaten in the car as we drive from volleyball practice to piano lessons. Sure, y’all can have a granola bar instead of an apple. I don’t have time to cut it up, anyway. Come on, my sweet ladies. We gotta go, go, go! Isn’t this how all sports moms who are writers live?

The Daniel Fast applied the brakes to my pace. Boundaries also known as “thinking” and “planning ahead” served as speed bumps, and even as stop signs because it takes time to ensure that I’m eating what is in the “yes” column. I had to read labels, chop fruit and veggies, and get creative with my limited options. As a result, my pace of life slowed, my pulse calmed down, and, interestingly enough, my relationships with my family members improved. Turns out that no one likes to be rushed and pushed out the door all of the time. Who knew?

We don’t each much highly processed food in our home. We learned about the evils of that several years ago, thanks to Husband suggesting that we read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. (Warning: if you don’t want your eyes to be opened about the American food industry, do not read this book.) I buy organic when I can. I “buy local” by frequenting the farmer’s market and a nearby farm-to-market store. I try to buy and serve to my family only produce that is in season. (Okay, I’m not always the best at that last one.)

Nonetheless, I’d grown disconnected. In all of my efforts, I’d lost the link between my and my family’s food and the One who created it and provides it. The Lord drove me to the Genesis creation accounts and had me soak in Scripture.

11-13 God spoke: “Earth, green up! Grow all varieties
of seed-bearing plants,
Every sort of fruit-bearing tree.”
And there it was.
Earth produced green seed-bearing plants,
all varieties,
And fruit-bearing trees of all sorts.
God saw that it was good.
It was evening, it was morning—
Day Three.

29-30 Then God said [to the human beings], “I’ve given you
every sort of seed-bearing plant on Earth
And every kind of fruit-bearing tree,
given them to you for food.
To all animals and all birds,
everything that moves and breathes,
I give whatever grows out of the ground for food.”
And there it was.

If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll remember that what is on our plates and in our glasses (even the highly processed stuff) originated from the very hand of God. We’ll realize that everything that we eat and drink is a gift, not an entitlement (even though we do need food and water to survive). Our hearts will be convicted and our eyes opened to the provision and beauty of God that is literally right under our noses. The scent, feeling, and taste of wholesome and thoughtfully prepared food awakens our senses.

Thank you, God, for food fasts that slow us down.

How about you? How has God spoken to you through food fasts? If you have not tried a food fast, what is holding you back?