Commonly Asked Questions re: a 40-day fast

image courtesy of yogitrition.com

image courtesy of yogitrition.com

I’ve been asked a few questions about my choice to enter a 40-day fast, so I wanted to take a second to lay it out for you. Oh, and after a quick double-check, I realized I had my dates wrong and our group is starting on Wednesday, April 8. Phew. I still have to figure out how I’m going to cook millet.

What is a 40-day fast?

The 40-day fast I’m participating in is a decision to step back from my normal, American diet and eat a diet similar to what the people in Mali, Africa eat for forty days.

Wait. I thought a fast meant NOT eating at all?

In some cases, that’s the truth. When Jesus fasted in the wilderness for forty days, he went completely without food. However, fasts can also be a person choosing to “eat only sparingly or of certain kinds of food, especially as a religious observance.”

Where did you get this idea?

My church is doing a study together on A Place at the Table: 40 Days of Solidarity with the Poor by Chris Seay. Seay describes his book as “a passionate journey of radical faith, personal action, solidarity, and extravagant grace.” The group studying the book will meet weekly, and although I know I won’t be able to make it all the time, I’m going to try to go when I can.

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Hands of Honor program participants

Why did you choose Mali

I’ve always felt called to ministry opportunities that encourage and strengthen the faith of young women. Recently, my Christian Missionary Alliance church family became partners with a program called Hands of Honor, which serves vulnerable girls in Segou, Mali.  Below is an overview that Becky, one of the program founders, emailed to me.

Hands of Honor, a literacy, skills, health, and discipleship training program, was launched last spring as a ministry to vulnerable domestic workers in the city of Segou, Mali. My colleagues and I started this outreach because of stories we heard from the girls in our prison ministry, who had arrived in Segou from rural communities to seek employment as domestic workers. They were vulnerable to abuse from their employers and naïve to the dangers of life in a big city. Each of the young women had become pregnant; out of desperation, they abandoned or killed their babies at birth. They were serving five years for this crime.

Becky went on to tell me a few of the girls’ stories. They broke my heart. As a young woman and a mother of daughters, I read their plights with dual understanding. It became clear that praying for the girls in this program was supposed to be the focus of my fast.

How is this going to make any difference?

This has a two-fold answer, and the first part is pretty practical. I’m planning to use the money I save in groceries to help the Hands of Honor program. It won’t be a lot, but it should be enough to sponsor one of the young women for a few months. I’m also planning to pray for the very specific needs that the girls have.

Then there’s me. My heart. My desire to see change come awake in my own life. This Richard Rohr quote from Simplicity does a good job summing up my thoughts as he talks about Jesus’ own forty-day fast.

“Jesus went into the wilderness, ate nothing for forty days, and made himself empty… Of course, emptiness in and of itself isn’t enough. The point of emptiness is to get ourselves out of the way so that Christ can fill us up.”

As a result of that filling, I hope to find a way to alter how I live and start making a better practice of, like Seay says at the end of chapter one, “taking only what I need and sharing the rest.”

Isn’t it a little ironic that you’re choosing to fast? Malians don’t have a choice.

I struggle with this question, because I don’t want anyone to come away with the wrong idea about why I’m doing this. Yes, I’m a privileged American who can go to WalMart and buy the staples of a Malian diet without blinking.  Yes, it’s ironic that I can choose to fast. I get it.

But that irony and privilege is costing me a few things, namely, my ability to remember that I can get by with less so that other can have more.

I want this fast to break my habits and open my eyes to the excess in my life so I can start reducing it. It is more than just raising awareness – it’s choosing to act now that I am aware, and doing so in a way that directly helps someone in need.

So what are you going to eat?

Here’s my list of ten Malian staples that I’m adopting for the next forty days. After consulting with our missionaries and reading up on Mali cuisine and food stuffs, this list seems pretty accurate of the whole foods I’d find accessible at market.

  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Peanuts
  • Spinach
  • Okra
  • Banana/plantain
  • Mango
  • Rice
  • Millet
  • Couscous
  • White bread

Is this just a Christian version of a fad diet?

No. You won’t find me posting any before and after pictures. I don’t own a scale, I don’t know how much I weight right now, and I won’t know what I weigh when I’m done. I still plan to eat three meals a day and exercise as usual.

This fast has nothing to do with my outside appearance, but everything to do with the inside of my heart.

I’m interested and want to know more.

Fantastic! If you are local to the Chisago Lakes, MN/St. Croix Falls, WI area, the group is planning to meet on Sunday mornings from 9:45 – 10:45 am in the Alliance Church of the Valley student center auditorium.

If you’re thinking about doing this on your own, with friends, in a small group, or with your church, go check out the resources that Chris has for the book at www.chrisseay.net. So much good stuff.

If you want to join me online and interact through my blog, I’d love to have you come alongside. I’d also be happy to share more about Hands of Honor program and the girls involved. Feel free to email me for more information.

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Planning a 40-Day Fast

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If life is a river, I’ve hit a snag with my easy-going motor boat ways.

I told you that last week, I felt a current of change in my life. Most of it was because of the combination of reading this book Seven, and spending a lot of time talking things over with God and feeling that something was amiss.

Then I started doing some reconnaissance. I’m watching my life, seeing its areas of excess. I’m noticing how often I let my toddlers turn on the faucet and play in the sink. I’m noticing how many times a day I want to open the fridge or the cupboards for something to snack on. I’m noticing that I tend to throw clothes that aren’t dirty in the laundry instead of putting them away.

I’m noticing how much food we throw away. I’m also becoming aware of how much of my life is spent consuming or thinking about consuming, food or otherwise. And I know this is the place to start, for me. This book – A Place at the Table – and the commitment to a 40-day fast.

And then I read this today. Isaiah 58: 6-9.

“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    to break the chains of injustice,
    get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
    free the oppressed,
    cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
    sharing your food with the hungry,
    inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
    putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
    being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
    and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
    The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
    You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

Well then. Sounds a little like divine placement in my day.

My country is still up in the air, but I’m leaning towards Mali, Africa. Our church has a partnership with them, and I have a strong interest in their Hands of Honor program, which works with young women who don’t have much of a future. More on that later. PS. I’m going to ask for your help brainstorming something.

Side note: I’m not planning on roping my family into this. As the head chef and grocery shopper in the house, I’m the one who has the most to learn about my perceptions, preparations, and mindfulness surrounding food. What I buy, the habits I keep, the food I serve – everything I do pours into my family.

This will mean extra work on my part, which is fine. It will also mean going into BEAST fasting mode in order to keep myself from snagging bites of my girls’ sandwiches and snacks, or whatever off-limits deliciousness I concoct for everyone else for supper.

What it mostly means is that I’m going to have to figure out this self-denial thing, which is probably the flabbiest part of my brain. I don’t really deny myself much of anything right now. I also have a strange habit of eating bowls of cereal before bed, because I think I sleep better on an occupied stomach.

Both of those things are going to have to change AND I somehow have to change them gracefully, because it won’t be fair to my family if I turn into a zombie. I probably won’t get any good writing done either, because I’ll mostly just be shaking out the keyboard looking for cookie crumbs THAT I WONT EAT. I swear. I just want to smell them.

Start date: After Easter. That means April 6, if I can research my foods, figure out how/where to get them (within reason) and get a hold of the book. A group of lovely people from my church are doing this as well, so I’ll have a good support group (read: people I can text and whine to about the gastrointestinal effects of eating so many beans.)

Wish me luck.

Better yet, if you’re interested, join me? Leave a message in the comments or email me if you’re interested in taking part.