I’ve had a strange relationship with hunger lately.
I’m on the tail end of a killer fever – I missed work on Thursday because an hour into my shift, I was sweating; hot and cold within minutes; couldn’t stand; I was coughing my lungs out; and I had no appetite.
Maybe “no appetite” is the wrong way of saying it – I had a cognitive appetite, but not a physical appetite. I knew in my head that I should eat. So I went home from work and prepared a pan-full of hot sausage and eggs, and chopped up a jalapeno in it – after all, all the spicy might help break everything up. I had enough energy to finish cooking and eat one bowl of it, and then the leftovers sat in my pan for the next 24 hours while I slept, and slept, and slept, and took advil, and slept some more. I ended up throwing the leftovers away.
I tried my hand at eating a few different things – I had Chipotle at one point [and everyone knows how I love Chipotle] and it didn’t do the trick. I went and bought Taco Bell and bathed it in blistery balm (hot sauce) and it didn’t do anything for me. I went home from work Saturday night with an insatiable need for chili cheese fries, and when I made them, it didn’t really register with my palate.
My head was telling me that things would taste good, and my body failed to pick up on the craving signals.
It was one of the strangest things I’ve experienced – medically, it’s completely normal [at least I think] but it was so interesting to know that something would be good, either in how it tastes or how it affects my body, and have my body fail to acknowledge what I was feeding it.
A few weeks before all of this, I’d deliberately set myself up to experience hunger in a different way. I’ve never been much of one for fasting, but I decided to try something new. I didn’t fast anything in particular over the Lenten period [although I’d considered it] but felt the stirring of the Lord to try a new type of fast: I’d fast meals a few times over Lent, and when I broke the fast, I’d break it with communion.
Quick aside: I’m not suggesting this as a cure-all for anyone; I would recommend it but I’d recommend it with the cynicism that if you don’t set your expectations, you may be disappointed.
Fasting is always very ironic, because I become acutely aware of all of the opportunities I have to eat that I have to turn down. It always seems like whenever I fast, someone brings donuts to work, someone offers to bring lunch, someone cooks something really nice. There’s always an extra opportunity.
That’s the greatest benefit of fasting, for me – awareness. I become aware of how often I feed myself, I become aware of the opportunities, I become aware of all of the things I consume.
And then I become aware of how much I truly have – not in a materialistic sense, but in a physical sense. I realize that while yes, I am hungry, I have enough reserves in my body to get me through a day. I realize that I can function for a whole day if I have to, and for once my ‘net spend’ [what goes in-what goes out] is negative, and I do my own body a favor in that regard.
Communion that night was an unbelievable experience. When I prayed over my meal (bread and wine,) I prayed that I’d become aware of the presence of Jesus. I prayed that the Body and the Blood would make sense; I prayed that He would dine with me; I prayed that He would be present. And, as it turned out, it did, He did, and He was.
The amazing part of coupling a fast with communion was this: the body informs the spirit, and then the spirit informs the body, and the Spirit informs them both.
The body says to the spirit, “this is hunger. This is what it means to be desperate, this is what it means to need, this is what it means to come to the end of what you have [or at least closer than we normally allow ourselves.]” Then, as the bread is consumed, the Spirit says to the body and the spirit, “this is what it means to be filled. This is what it means for the sacrifice of Jesus to be enough, for the body to be the bread and the blood to be the wine. This is the substance of your need; the satisfaction of your hunger.”
It was here that I began to see how the spirit operates a lot like the body, and vice versa. When it’s hungry, the spirit has enough to get by, even though it’s not quite satisfied. I’ve experienced this in the year I spent away from God, knowing that there was something I needed and something more I could have. At the same time, however, there was enough of a deposit (because that’s how the gospel works) that I stayed alive, I kept just enough nutrients to sustain me until I could be fed again.
And like the body, we constantly feed the spirit, and the question is simply: what do you feed it? There are things that are healthy and things that are unhealthy, and as with everything, it often seems to be a choice.
Your diet is a habit, and habits are simply repeated choices. Upon reflection, I’ve found that my own spiritual diet has changed over time, and not necessarily for the better.
I see, for example, how at one point, I would eat a weekly spiritual meal of community. I would involve myself in a small group, do the homework for it, and go to it happily because it was a good thing.
After spending time out of church, I find myself struggling to desire a small group or bible study, because I have other options. Instead of vegetables, I could have ice cream. Instead of small group, I could have a night to myself. Instead of a mid-week church service, I could have a night out at a bar with friends. Instead of daily time in the bible, I could have an extra hour of sleep.
And as cliche and guilt-mongering as it is to say all of things; I think I’ve consumed enough grace on this. The human metabolism can handle certain things for so long…when you’re 20, you can survive on Grippo’s and Dr. Pepper in college. Trust me, I did it. But when you’re 30, you can’t.
in the same way, the spirit can survive for a little while without things, but eventually you have to be kinder to it and treat it with more respect. At some point, I have to give my body nutrients, vegetables, etc. At some point, I have to give my spirit Godly community, consumption of the Word, and the intentional pursuit of God.
Lord, re-train me. Help me to void all of the excuses I give myself – between work, rest, personal time, friendships, hobbies, etc – help me to cut through all of those and make godliness a practice. As the Word says, godliness is of value in every way (1 timothy 4:8.) I repent that I have gotten so lazy in how I think, how I spend my time, and I confess that this is the 100th time I’ve repented of this. Help me.