Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Prayer and Fasting - The Novice's Approach

At church we are embarking on four days of prayer and fasting. Sitho asked all bloggers on Sunday to write about it and so here I am, writing about something I know pretty much nothing about. Well, the fasting bit anyway. It's a part of Christian life that was never taught to me in great depth, never encouraged and never partaken by any previous church I've attended.

So, here I sit. A total novice with limited knowledge and absolutely no authority on the subject at all.

But, in myself I don't feel inadequate. I don't feel pressure to suddenly leap into 40 days with sack-cloth on my head resisting the tempation of every jammie dodger that passes my eyes, or the nasal allure of the chippy on the way home. I'm entering this with an open mind, no expectation and a huge amount of humility and uncertainty. To the more experienced Christians it may well be a doddle to get on with it (or maybe not) and enjoy the time with God, but to me it's pastures new and I'm viewing it as another step on my journey with God. Another step towards achieving a closeness that was suppressed for many, many years.

By nature I am not an immediate 'doer'. I like to know why I'm doing something. Who said I had to do it and how do I do it right? I don't fall in with the crowd and I don't follow the leader. Well, not to start with anyway. There are times when I do, like leafletting for the church healing meeting this week. We all delivered hundreds of leaflets. It was good to do. Although I admit, it wasn't so great being allocated the road I'm certain had the most number of 'Beware Of The Dog' signs this side of Watford. I also admit to a certain amount of trepidation treading the path to the front door of one house that looked like it could well have housed the HQ for the chainsaw massacre fan club! I'm sure they were lovely people really! But I felt led to do my bit. I had a responsibility and a duty to minister this way and serve God. It was simple and needed no explanation. This probably isn't my best example of my point, but I'm presuming you're getting my drift here.

With this frame of mind came all sorts of enquiries when I first learnt of the prayer and fasting this week. Not the praying side. All Christians can pray, note I say 'can', not 'do'. There are plenty out there failing in this and while I'm in no position at all to criticise it's not something that comes easy to some people, even the most 'experienced' Christians may well admit to days where it's near impossible to come near to God because of time, wrong attitude, guilt etc. Heck, even some non-Christians pray and they don't believe in Him. It's amazing how life's extremities can lead to a momentary chat with God even when you're an unbeliever. Prayer's hard. It requires time, silence, discipline and humbleness. Sometimes I feel like I'm a flippant prayer because I talk to him all the time, but not always in great depth, just a bit of chit chat here and there. The children often ask who I'm talking to in the car on the way down the M4. To the guys driving by years ago I would have looked a loon talking to myself - now they just think I'm on hands-free. But in essence I am, on the direct line to God. Yay!!

But I'm digressing...

But fasting? The word itself caused a momentary panic. No food! Aaarrggh!! How long should I fast? What does fasting involve? No solids? No liquids? What if I fast too long? What if I don't fast long enough? How long is right for me? Do I avoid ALL food preparation? Heck, who's going to feed the children?!! Do I pray when I would ordinarily handle food? Can I fast at work but not pray during the day as I'm working and still pray later in the day and be OK skipping breakfast and lunch too? Or should I only fast when I'm praying or pray when I fast?

Questions, questions, questions. Typical me. Present me with a situation, ask me to do something and I come up with 101 questions. It's part of my processing nature. Part of me that's not happy to embark on anything until I have made investigations, sorted my doubts, sourced my answers and evaluated the results. Only then, will I be content to take part.

Maybe this seems evasive, arrogant even. I assure you, it's not meant to be. But, in reverence to God, I am not doing this if I am ignorant to the facts. I am not going to dishonour Him by starting it with the wrong attitude and mental approach. I want to be right with Him. So, yesterday, instead of fasting I continued to eat and drink and spent the day asking Him at intervals what I should do? I don't even know if that was right. Maybe I should have fasted anyway and made that my prayer. But like I say, total novice. Just as a parent doesn't yell at a toddler for stumbling when making their first steps, I know God won't view me with displeasure at my faltering steps when making a first approach to fasting. As a parent guides and encourages, I know He'll guide and encourage me and He'll teach me where my 'right' is.

So, today I know how I want to do this. I'm not sharing here. It's between me and God. Just as prayer and fasting is between each Christian and God. It's personal. That's what makes it so amazing. I've learnt there is no right or wrong way to do it and as I've said before, He'll teach me my 'right' and I'm certain He'll also point out my 'wrong' too! What I also know is that the time I spend with Him will be sincere. It will be my uniterrupted time with God and I'm really looking forward to it.

Which leads to my next question. How on earth do I find the time to be alone with God? With four young children demanding attention from the moment they wake (well, from the moment I wake - we all know that early mornings do not exist in my time clock), school run to take on, dash off to drop off Sam, day at the office with 30 minute lunch break (open plan office, so no time alone), home, chores etc, dinner. Where is my time? This is the one fundamental thing that people fail to appreciate for a working mother. There is no 'me' time. I know that stay at home Mums have the same problem. Constant desired attention from their children, chores to do, errands to run..... where can we go to be alone? If I do get time alone, I'm burst in upon and asked if I'm OK. Why are you on your own Mummy? Can I sit on your lap Mummy? It's long been known that the best way to get your child's attention is to sit down and look relaxed!! It's something I struggle with. I long for just a day sometimes where I can book a day off work and be alone, but it's not something I can plan just now. So, at the moment I'm finding it hard to find the time to pray alone. To get time to earnestly put my mind at ease, rid it of errant thoughts here and there and to purely focus.

But on a more light-hearted note, if I manage to get through the day without nibbling or snacking it will be nothing short of a minor miracle! But again, testimony, I know, that He's carrying me through this as I must be one of the planet's most prolific between-meal nibblers. For me not to snack is rare - to skip a meal - unheard of, unless I'm ill. But I'm enjoying this. Not to prove myself to anyone, not to show that I'm resilient, not to prove a point, but to spend time with the God I love, putting His needs before my own during a time when I'd ordinarily be satisfying my own needs through the solace of food.

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