I was curious about the physical benefits, but it was the spiritual effects that made it worthwhile.
Last week, I did something crazy. After listening to some podcasts on the benefits of extended (24+ hours) fasting, my curiosity was piqued and I decided to give it a try. I also decided not to tell my family in advance, for two reasons: first, I wanted to follow the scriptural admonition to fast in secret, and second, I didn’t want to admit failure if I failed. After all, 24 hours with nothing but water, green tea, and some electrolytes is a serious challenge.
I figured I might as well kill two birds with one stone and start on a day when I work evenings, since I’ve been trying to get out of the habit of eating dinner at 10 p.m. when I get home. I intentionally moved my meals up earlier that day, eating my last meal at 4 p.m. before I headed to work. I had expected that night to be the easiest, but I still ate a big, nutrient-dense meal — which worked as anticipated. By the time I got home from work, I wasn’t hungry. But I was grumpy.
I always have at least an hour of paperwork to wrap up at home on nights when I work, and it’s become habitual to eat dinner while I do it. Without dinner, I had nothing to look forward to except … yuck … paperwork. And weirdly, without the motivating hunger I’d become accustomed to, I was tired. Like bone-deep, nothing-left-to-give weary. I’m not proud of it, but the truth is that hour of work was one of the most bitter, most self-pitying hours I’ve experienced in quite some time.
Nevertheless, I got it done and collapsed into bed — an hour earlier than usual, which was an unexpected bonus. But when I woke up, I did not feel refreshed. I felt groggy and almost as tired as the night before — only halfway into my 24 hours.
I have a healthy level of scientific curiosity and an unhealthy level of sheer stubbornness, however, so I stuck it out. By hour 16, I was ravenous. Food was all I could think about. Luckily for me, I had to work soon after that, and I’m 99% sure that leaving my debit card at the house when I went was my saving grace. I felt slightly foggy and off-kilter for the first hour or so of work, but by 1 p.m. — 18 hours in — my head cleared up and I started feeling pretty good. Not great, but much better. I stayed busy until it was time to pick the kids up from school and begin homework and dinner.
When we got home, a curious thing happened. I started making dinner and helping with homework and realized that I felt peaceful — 20 hours into my fast. I didn’t have a ton of energy or feel abnormally happy — I just felt calm. Even when all five kids were asking me questions about homework at the exact same time I was trying to keep the onions from burning, I was calm. Not pretending to be calm on the outside, but actually, genuinely, deep-in-my-spirit calm and at peace. It was such an amazing experience that I almost didn’t want to eat when I finally got to hour 24 … Almost.
Of course, I ate dinner with the kids and helped them finish homework before we started the bedtime rituals. We read stories and sang songs and even though I’d eaten, I still had that oddly peaceful feeling. It was one of the best nights we’ve had in a long time — and the kids told me as much. I went to bed that evening feeling a deep sense of gratitude that my curiosity and stubborn pride had propelled me through what I used to think was an insane, nearly barbaric Old-Testament-style penance.
It turns out that fasting has benefits that go far beyond the physical. Yes, it forces you to rely more on God — trust me, there were plenty of moments around the 16-18 hour mark when I had to beg Jesus to take the wheel. But I also suspect that it has a spiritually renewing effect that’s much like the physical renewing your body undergoes. There might be scientific explanations for the peace I felt, and still feel … but those explanations don’t diminish how grateful I am for the unexpected gift that came with a 24-hour fast. Fasting like this is not for everyone — and should never be used to cover up a deeper problem — but those who can benefit from it may find it a helpful practice to try.
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