Some time before the week is out, I plan to embark on a coffee fast. I am doing it in place of a food fast because the last several times I did food fasts, I experienced a great deal of weakness, lightheadedness, severe anxiety and was essentially worthless for any focused activity. So I’m fasting from coffee instead.
Many years ago, when I was a brand-new Christian, I went on a three-day fast with a friend from my church. I was a day into the fast, and remarking to myself that it wasn’t all that hard, when another friend informed me: “Dude, it’s not really fasting when you drink Mountain Dew all day long.” That’s when the fast really started, and I discovered that it is, indeed, hard. Your stomach rumbles, your energy flags, you become irritable and dour. And you miss the simple enjoyment of creature comforts.
Two full days into this, my friend, Lee, called me to see if I was sticking to the fast. I told him I was and asked how he was doing. He told me he was pondering putting some chicken in the blender, thereby converting it to liquid and technically continuing the fast.
I broke the fast after three days with a huge breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast ― a nod to my deprived flesh and a gastrointestinal bomb that still makes me wince when I think about it. (Fasts are supposed to be broken gently for physical reasons.) But at least I did what I said I was going to do. I’m not sure exactly how much I benefitted from it.
This latest fast started in the middle of the night last night: not the actual fast (I don’t normally drink coffee at 2am), but my decision to proceed with it. I have been waking in the night almost every night for the last several weeks, and this time, after glancing at the clock and cringing, I started talking to God about things.
I’m in a difficult season. Because of my new job, I am coping with change on all fronts: geographical, financial, cultural, environmental, etc. When I first moved up to Chehalis, I had no friends here, though that has changed since. All the changes have created enormous stress ― on top of the pressure of my job, which carries a considerable weight of responsibility and requires me to make constant adjustments.
As a result of all this, plus some bonus material (a painful event in my personal life), I have been going through severe depression and anxiety such as I haven’t experienced for a long time. Not catastrophic by any means, particularly to someone to whom God has taught the transformative value of adversity. However, the turbulence has made it difficult to focus, caused me to regress into comfort eating and stolen restful sleep from me. All this has created a whirlpool in my life and taken me away from things I very much need, often including prayer and contact with important people in my life. I have never been so aware of my need for focus and self-discipline while having so little of it.
Then, this morning at 2:30, I asked God for the umpteenth time: “What do I need to do to get on the other side of this?” This time I got an answer. A fast. Not a food fast, but a fast from something else, preferably something I am reluctant to do without. Coffee is that. It is a creature comfort, a trusted physical boost and a morning pep-talk. I can do without these for a while.
A minister friend once told me, “Sacrifice moves the heart of God.” I hope he’s right. Not that I doubt the statement as a stand-alone truth. God himself made the ultimate sacrifice for us, the morning after his Son foreshadowed the sentiment by washing twelve sets of grubby feet ― including those of the man who was about to sell him out ― which Jesus knew even as he was rinsing the road grime from the man’s feet.
My hesitation has to do with the basis of my fast. I am giving up coffee as a way of asking God to strengthen and renew my devotion to Christ Jesus. I’m not completely sure that is the proper way to approach this. A fast is not a device to attain some kind of cosmic leverage on God. No one can “lever” anything out of God. But I believe it is definitely a means of gaining spiritual leverage against one’s own flesh. The rest ― increased strength in my relationship with Christ ― will come one way or another.