Commonly Asked Questions re: a 40-day fast

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

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.


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 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.


Why My Girls Wear Hand-me-downs


You would have sworn it was Christmas. My girls were pulling items out of the box, shrieking in delight. My oldest daughter plastered a shirt against her front. “Isn’t it so cute, mama?” The little ones pulled out book after book, ooo ooo oooing in excitement.

The box didn’t come from an online retailer promoting the latest kid trends and stories. It wasn’t from grandma, and it didn’t contain anything with tags.

It was a cardboard diaper box full of hand-me-downs from a friend.

We are the last in our group of friends to have kids, which means there are three girls older than my daughters who are passing down clothes, toys, and shoes. The items cover each of their little bodies for a season or two, and then time is up. The sleeves are too short. The hems lets cold air reach newly exposed skin. The clothing moves on.

Inevitably, every season my friend Katie gives us a bag or box of things her daughter has outgrown. (I admire/adore her timeliness. Her bags are the only thing that reminds me I should be going through my own girls’ clothes.)

Lucia gets stoked about new books for the library.

Lucia gets stoked about new books for the library.

And every season, I love watching my oldest open the box or bag. She immediately puts on any dresses she finds. She grabs a top and says “hey, that’s Avery’s shirt!” But my favorite part of the whole procedure is the moment when Ellis proclaims, “That was so nice of Avery to share her clothes with me, wasn’t it Mama?”

Something more is happening besides us rounding out our seasonal wardrobes. My daughter is learning the joy of sharing. She’s not thumbing up her nose at clothes with the occasional stain or shoes that are already worn. She simply recognizes that her friend was kind enough to share with her.

Shouldn’t clothing warm us, body and soul?

I get it. My girls are not trend setters. We don’t model the latest fashions in your Instagram feed. And you know what? I’m fine with that. The lifestyle I’m sharing with my kids is one that doesn’t put too much value on what we wear. You know why?

Play clothes actually get dirty at my house. And contrary to Oxiclean’s promise, grass stains and dirt streaks and paint splatters don’t always come out. Eggs get dropped on the way back from the chicken coop. Shoes that aren’t waterproof end up in mud puddles.

But thankfully, I don’t spend my time caring for and worrying over the $38 on-trend sweater that’s now covered in ketchup and apple juice. I do my best to clean what I can, but at the end of the day, there’s no crying over ruined threads.

Kids are messy, and I love letting them embrace that. It means they are exploring. Touching things. Dragging their knees through soft earth, feeling their way into the real world.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the freshness of new clothes as much as the next girl. When my daughters need new things, or a few special occasion outfits, I’m more than happy to oblige. But for the bulk of their wardrobes, hand-me-downs are the perfect fit.

At least for the next six months.

Welcome to the season of giving, when it’s easy to think about stores and shopping and one-click purchases as the answer to every wish. But you know what I’ve been most blessed by? A neighbor who dropped off her son’s outgrown wooden train blocks and a couple of sleds. Or my friends, who’ve shared the clothes and dresses their sweet daughters bounced and danced in. 

Don’t underestimate what you have to give. Offer things your child is done with to a friend, a co-worker, the parents next to you at church, the woman you sit by on the PTO. The worst they can say is no, and the best they can say is a grateful, graceful thanks.