I love to eat. For those who know me well, two hours without food and I become Linda Blair in The Exorcist. While I was growing up, I often listened to my mother talk about fasting. To me, fasting meant hours and hours without eating and that was not an option. If a loved one was sick, my mother and her church peers, fasted. If someone’s house was in foreclosure, they fasted. I didn’t get it. How can not eating change the fate of any situation?
Then life happened. My fate was no longer tucked neatly underneath the headscarf my mother wore when she was about to get down and dirty in prayer and fasting. I was a young woman dealing with and observing the life issues that deboned our illusive realities. I watched how death swooped into a dear friend’s life, claiming her brother and fiancée within three months of each other.
I watched how breast cancer sopped the life out of a talented Nigerian photographer and colleague, who in her last breaths could not bare the torture of blinking. I observed how a vicious divorce had skinned the dignity from my friend’s spirit and left her gasping for her femininity and her worth. And I was trying to find myself among the vestiges of an abusive relationship.
My friends and I walked life’s red carpet of joy and loss, brokenness and recovery. But all the self-help books in the world couldn’t soothe the grief of not having full control over our lives.
And so I summoned the strength of the church women I grew up with. These women worked double-shifts, endured cheating husbands and watched their sons get shipped away into steel clouds. Some were the paid companions of rich, withering white folk whose families barely visited them. These women’s crisp, bleached uniforms often hid the vomit stains, fecal droppings and tyrannical rhetoric that eroded the new American life they once fantasized about from their island homes.
But you would never know as their faces were as creaseless as the pristine suits and dresses they wore Sunday after Sunday. These church women stood erect with the world tearing into their weary backs. They can’t afford therapy, so they prayed until the heavens bled and they fasted until God surrendered to their pleas.
So I joined them in fasting and praying. But I wasn’t sure how to fast, so a missionary encouraged me to read the book of Esther—a biblical story about a beautiful, young woman whose people’s doomed fate was suddenly placed in her hands. She and her people fasted for three days and nights to summon a strength so powerful, it can change destinies. And it did.
Now while the story did not offer a how-to guide on fasting, it enabled me to see the source of these women’s faith. Fasting is a sacrifice, an offering to God that communicates a reverence so deep and so pure, it brings people together and sometimes, reverse fates.
And so when I was faced with a major financial crisis, I fasted. When my friend was going through her divorce, I fasted. When another friend was going through a cancer-related procedure, I fasted.
I set an intention and offered my humble sacrifice, meditating and praying throughout the day, consciously seeking the grace that has sustained generations of fasters. And while I know that there are fates that cannot be reversed and prayers that will become dusty, fasting tones faith in the same way Pilates tones one’s abdomen, strengthening the human spirit at the core.
Here are some tips for effective fasting:
· Set a specific intention.
· Don’t fast cold turkey. Take your time. Start with sacrificing one meal and then grow from there.
· Get a fasting buddy.
· Surround yourself with music, scripture and spiritual materials that will aid you in your meditation.
· Take prayer breaks. If you’re at work, for example, perhaps you can go to the bathroom and have a quickie with God.