I’m beginning to write this seven days into the Daniel Fast, and I’m already doing a pretty great job at messing it up. I’ve cheated more than once, and I haven’t read a chapter of John every day.
It’s basically turning into a period of giving up sweet tea and donuts (not anymore on the donuts… Update: Or the sweet tea…) and overwhelming guilt.
The Backstory: My pastor asked our church to participate in the Daniel Fast as we begin the new year. If you don’t know what that is, it’s where you limit your diet by taking out meat, dairy, sweets and leavened bread for 21 days. You essentially eat like Daniel did in Daniel 1. In addition to this, we were supposed to read a chapter of John every day. So since everyone else was doing it, I figured I’d give it a shot. Why not right?
I could make up excuses to why I’m sucking at it like food is my ultimate weakness and even though John is one of my favorite books of the Bible, I’ve read it so many times in the past year that I just don’t want to read it right now. Plus I’m doing a pretty solid job of keeping up with She Reads Truth at the moment and adding a chapter of John each day will probably mean sacrificing one of them, and that’s just the truth of my current state of Bible reading.
But honestly, those excuses don’t matter because my heart wasn’t in it. It still isn’t.
But despite all of that, the Lord is still faithful and He has taught me significantly more in these days of attempting and failing miserably at the Daniel Fast than I think He would have if I would have executed it perfectly.
I realized that I love food. Maybe too much. I don’t really know. I just know that I don’t have much self-control when it comes to food. Maybe I’m gluttonous. I only overeat occasionally though, and I can mostly control my portions. But I just can’t turn down free food, and sometimes I drool in grocery stores. I love food especially the food that you can’t eat on the Daniel Fast. It’s delicious, and I thank God for it. Life would be boring without good food.
Can food be an idol? Probably. In fact, our whole day is planned around meals (and class and work and everything else that’s important to us), but maybe it should be planned around time with God instead. Whoa. That’s intensely convicting isn’t it?
But food isn’t bad. Besides the fact that we need food to survive, I think back at all of the sweet, meaningful times spent with friends and family over meals or coffee.
I’ve also realized how damaging legalism can be to me. I’m not saying in any way that this fast was legalistic. But I am saying that I made it that way. I held myself to a standard that I couldn’t reach. I looked at the list of foods I wasn’t “supposed” to eat for 21 days and made it into a set of strict rules to follow. I do this often with so many different things. I even make my relationship with Christ that is full of love, kindness and forgiveness into a set of rules I have to follow. If I don’t follow them, He won’t love me. I won’t be good enough. But that’s the furthest thing from the truth. The truth is He loves me regardless of whether or not I follow the ten commandments at all times. Regardless of whether I succeed at the Daniel Fast. Granted I should repent when I sin but the point is He loves me, and because of that He forgives me when I fail Him. When I break His heart by turning down the path well traveled instead of the narrow one, when I turn my back on Him and walk the other direction, when I run right past His open arms into the arms of something else, when I sin. He loves us at our weakest and most disgusting moments, and that’s what makes the gospel so beautiful.
My promises will never be good enough. I won’t keep all of my promises. I can’t because I’m not perfect. I am human. Flawed. But God always keeps His promises because He is holy. His promise to love and care for me. His promise to forgive me when I mess up. Never failing and never ending. His promises are forever. I am so thankful for that.
I have to remind myself that God doesn’t call us to a new law. He calls us to a relationship with Him. Christianity isn’t supposed to be a set of rules and regulations. And I know that. It’s been drilled into me since I was born. But I make it that way so often. Do I really act like this is a relationship? Or am I just trying to be as good as I can because that’s what I am supposed to do? So I can impress God or other people?
It’s not a set of rules. It’s a relationship. And relationships are messy. They are far from perfect. They’re up and down. In and out. Sideways. You argue. You cry. You smile. You fight and make up. You forgive and forget. You move on. You laugh. You serve. You give. You sacrifice. You hug. You hit. You walk away. You communicate. You reminisce. You encourage. You comfort. You get mad. You hate. You love. It’s a roller coaster.
And that’s exactly what we have with God. Thankfully one side of the relationship is perfect, but my side… definitely not.
Every relationship is different. My relationship with my sister is different than your relationship with yours. So my relationship with God is going to look different than yours. What works to grow your faith is different than mine. Your spiritual gifts are different than mine. Our struggles, where we find our joy, how we tell others about Jesus, where and when we pray, everything is different. And that’s okay. We don’t have to all look the same. We don’t all have to interact with God the same. We don’t have to act out our faith the same way. And so often I look at other people who seem to have it all together and seem to be such good Christians, and they are, but I compare myself to them. Then I think that maybe I should be acting more like that girl over there or sharing my faith like that guy on the other side of the room, but what if that just doesn’t work for me? What if I’m not good at what they do? Because God has gifted me and called me to something different. Something unique to me.
This may be why there’s so much disagreement among Christians. Because we’re all unique and we think we’re the only one who’s right when in reality God is the only one who’s right. But isn’t our uniqueness what makes it so beautiful? That God can reach such a wide variety of individuals. That He doesn’t just love one specific set of people who are all similar. That despite our dissimilarities we are all the same in that we are all sons and daughters of Christ. Heirs to His throne. We (should) love each other despite our differences because we’re all the same. We’re all loved by the one who created us.
Finally I realized that for the first time doing something remotely close to the Daniel Fast, it wasn’t wise for me to start with a 21 day fast from my favorite foods. So, I think next time I am going to fast on my own when God tells me it’s a good time, how He tells me it should be done and for how long I should do it. It’ll actually be something attainable where my heart is in it. Where I’m not guilty because I’m failing man, but convicted because I’m failing God. Where I can grow as a Christian and grow closer to the Lord. Then eventually maybe I’ll try the Daniel Fast again because I don’t hate the idea. It just wasn’t for me this time around.