Every year my church takes part in a citywide happening we call Seven.
It’s pretty amazing.
Over 25 churches around the entire city and even into its surrounding small towns gather together in prayer and fasting for one week, hoping to see a move of God in the place we call home. It’s actually a pretty loose game when it comes to how you want to participate – you can fast for one day, you can fast for the whole week. You can pray with your church, your family, your friends, whoever. There is no right way to do it really, so long as your heart is in the right place.
Last year I took part in it for the first time. For one week I really only consumed a few protein shakes and ate a couple of small bites on the days that I worked because a) I’d never fasted before and wasn't trying ot be a hero about the whole thing, and b) in a physically demanding job, I felt very quickly the effects of not eating. I remember by Thursday, I was unloading a couple pallets of wine and could feel how my physical strength was almost gone. It was sobering. And what it really made me realize was how much I thought about food and eating and drinking, when I could be using that valuable brain space to focus my thoughts toward prayer. And that was alarmingly humbling.
The final day of Seven, all of the people who want to be a part of it from all the churches citywide gather together on the waterfront in Portland down by the banks of the Willamette River. Now that was something. I went alone and, because I’m still a recovering introvert, I stayed on the outskirts of the group. Not because I didn’t trust that I would be welcomed into any of the little groups of people huddled together in prayer, but because I was scared.
Sidenote: I’m still incredibly shy when it comes to gathering up with people in prayer. Even people I know. I want so badly to be able to circle up with a group of friends and be able to speak beautiful prayers ((Nathan is particularly good at this, he always seems to find the right words)) but alas, I clam up every time. I’m talking all out panic. I hate praying out loud in groups to the point that just thinking about it now I can feel my anxiety levels hitting alarming new heights – “but you keep it all inside”.
So anyway, I stood back and watched and listened and sang quietly by myself along with about a thousand people who love Jesus lifted the words of “Amazing Grace” to the city of Portland. I still felt a part of it. I was still there. But especially at the point I was a year ago, I was not in the right place to jump in fully.
So fast-forward now to this year.
Seven began on Sunday and all that day I fasted, drinking only liquids throughout the day at work. Boom, boom, done.
I continued this through Monday and Tuesday, sipping on green smoothies for lunch and having some soup for dinner each night just to get a little nourishment ((again, having learned that running around the winery for 8-9 hours a day with nothing in my system is not the best idea if I’m going to do my job well))… But for three days something wasn’t setting right. I could feel in myself that this year my heart wasn’t in it fully. And what little it was, I’m not sure it was for the right reasons. My head would redirect me to prayer and remind me why I was doing this, but I wasn’t feeling it. And I don’t mean that to sound flippant by any means, just that this year I wasn’t as “all in” as I was last year. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about they was God likes to do things, it’s that if you recognize you’re not doing something for the right reasons, it’s best not to.
“Nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate” and such.
Not that I wasn’t doing it with love for Jesus, I was. And I wanted to do it to honor Him. What I wanted to do what mind-over-matter that shiz and not let Him down!
But in thinking all that over, I noticed something. I was more focused on not letting myself down. I was doing this more as a test of my own will power, is what I realized. I wasn't doing it to glorify God or doing for my city. I was seeing if I could go a week without eating. Not great, Lairen. And then in turn I started to worry that God was going to be disappointed in me - for not following through with the fast, for not doing it for the right reasons in the first place. All of it came crushing with guilt ((of my own creation, it should be noted)).
I mean, Jesus knows I’m going to eff some things up in life – that’s a given. And He loves me no matter what. That I know for sure. So while it’s always good to be aware of trying to be a good and faithful servant, why was I allowing my pride tell me this was going to be some straw that breaks the camel’s back?
So after thinking about it and wrestling with it for the past few days, I woke up this morning and decided to end my fast. And you know what? In its own way I think it has made me more prayerful this time around. Last year I was absolutely praying for a move of God. And I saw it – I saw it with my own eyes the power of those prayers. This year, not being able to focus my prayers as much as I’d have liked, I was instead coming face to face with a conviction that I’m guessing was a long time coming – who are you doing these “good things” for? It brought me to my knees knowing that if I’m not doing something this important for His glory, I ought not do it at all.
Does this make me a bad Christian? I don’t think so.
I think it’s just real.
I am nowhere near being “the perfect Christian” and I hope never to think so highly of myself as to claim that.
I am messed up, I am broken, I am a walking natural disaster.
And I don’t say this in a “woe is me, please boost me up!” way but simply in an honest, here it is, lay it all out kind of way. We’ve all said it or read it at some point, that if you’re only posting what makes your life look like something out of the pages of Kinfolk and making believe that life is perfect, if only on the scrolling pages of a blog, you’re lying. And Lord knows, I’m not trying to hide some of the crap that’s gone on the past couple of years. So why would I think that simply by not holding strong to this week of fasting I’m somehow backsliding into God-knows-what?
I’m not sure what I was thinking, but I think it was somewhere along the lines of “everyone at church will know I’m not a dedicated a Christian as they are and oh NO I feel like a fraud!”… Which is even more ridiculous because my friends at church are nowhere near that kind of people! The people at my church are amazing, loving and open-minded – what am I worried about? Oh, that’s right, my own BS. How fair of me to let that ricochet off my own ego and onto them. Oy.
I will not hold myself to a standard of perfection, but rather a standard of honesty. And honestly? While I love prayer, I kind of hate fasting. Which is probably a sign that I should do it more. But that's another post for another time.
I’m still navigating this whole world while following Jesus. He promised it wouldn’t be easy, and if nothing else He said rings true that’s the one thing for sure. I’m good with that. I understand that my chances of getting it “wrong” are far greater than getting it “right” but like I said, He loves me. He loves. And all the fasting in the world can’t make Him love me any more than He already does.
Isn’t that amazing? No, you know what that is?
Amazing, amazing grace.