I heard a pastor the other day talk about how the early church in the first century loved their communities so much that they would fast for days so that those that were starving could eat.
That's not often a reason I hear for fasting.
I think of Isaiah 58 where God says we’ve got it all wrong, “Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers...Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily...If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong;” (ESV).
Oh Lord, have we completely missed the whole point of fasting? Fasting is about justice. It seems to be about choosing to suffer in solidarity with those that are.
Yes, I believe there is a place to say, “God I hunger for you more than food.” It can be an act of devotion. It can be a way we yearn for the bridegroom, singing Hallelujah til he comes, but I think there is more.
I don’t know where we got this idea that we fast to get things. Maybe it’s biblical, but Jesus didn’t seem to do that.
I keep thinking of the verse where Jesus says, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”
To do the will of the Father.
Jesus responds to the Pharisees that the disciples didn’t need to fast because the bridegroom was with them. (Mark 2:19, ESV). They were seeing the kingdom break in and heal the suffering sojourners of Israel.
Then there is that weird verse when the disciples couldn’t cast out a demon and what does Jesus say?
“This kind only comes out with prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21, ESV).
Yes, it’s a footnote, but it made the cut, so what does this verse mean?
I think we’ve missed something key in the compassion of Jesus. It wasn’t just a good character trait, but the means of God’s power of healing through him.
Shared pain heals.
It’s why more than encouraging words we just want someone to sit with us and shed a tear along with ours. It’s why Jesus wept and why ultimately, he went to the cross.
Nouwen puts it this way, “No one can help anyone without becoming involved, without entering with his whole person into the painful situation, without taking the risk of becoming hurt, wounded or even destroyed in the process...In short: Who can take away suffering without entering it?”
No one. Not even Jesus. It’s what makes this story beautiful. This is the way of Jesus.
Personally, I think the verse makes sense if certain demons only leave with prayer and fasting because it requires us to choose suffering and enter into the pain of the one tormented. Even if it is only in the slightest. We approach God in prayer on their behalf, gaining his heart, and feeling to the fullest the weakness of our own flesh on our bones. We desperately experience our humanity and the need for divinity.
I know many are fasting right now, for a variety of reasons: but many for the current climate of our city. And suffering in our bodies moves our souls. It always does. Compassion moves our feet, as their problems become ours, our brokenness just as much identified as theirs, and the pain shared.
It’s the beauty of the entire gospel we believe in. Jesus entered the pain of the world to share it, to heal it. And he calls to take up a cross to see this very healing in our world.
Isaiah 58 makes it clear that fasting is never solely spiritual, which shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus’ way is always holistic. What we see here is that doing his will in the world should feed us more than even physical food. There is mystery here, and I choose to lean in it. Yet, it seems so apparent that when we fast, it’s about justice.
I don’t know what suffering love will lead you to do, but it is evident that fasts move our feet as much as our hearts.
Book: Nouwen, H. J. M. (1994). The wounded healer: Ministry in contemporary society. London: Darton, Longman & Todd.
While I was in Mexico, a friend asked me if I could choose one thing to be remembered for when people looked at my life.
Without hesitation, I knew.
Articulating the full scope of what I think that means and entails has been a whole different challenge that I am continually epically failing at.
But a few days ago another friend reminded me of something I said many years ago, “I don’t want to have a washing machine until everyone on my block has a washing machine.”
I had completely forgotten I said that, and most of the time I feel so far from that statement, yet I think it’s the simplest way to say what I actually want to live.
Does my love prefer the other or does my love just make me feel good?
I’m getting to this point where I’m thinking: Is there any other kind of love other than suffering love? Is love still love unless it’s been tested and tried through pain? Pain seems to be apart of the wonderful journey of loving. And I think that simply sharing pain is what heals us in the end. It’s why sitting in silence over tears somehow speaks louder than any of our words. Those that learn to share pain with us rather than try quick fix solutions are really what we’re all looking for, right?
We’ve constructed comfort so that we can avoid the true rhythms that shape our world. That’s why some love to re-enter the real. From sleeping out in nature, enduring all the rain, chills, to the worn-out moments of exhaustion, sleepless nights, and yet they taste, see, and smell real beauty.
We don’t eat seasonally. We don’t know the tides or ways the stars are shifting in moving the sky above us. We like our gates and white picket fences to keep people out. We like our space heaters. Not too hot, not too cold, just right. Meanwhile, I don’t think we’re recognizing we’re air-conditioning ourselves out of the persistence that life requires.
But back to the point. Pain is necessary to go through to not only be a good human being but to also be a beautiful person.
You meet people, you look them in the eyes and you just know that they have experienced the breath-taking journeys that entail the ups and downs of life. You know they have experienced enough failures to realize their fragility. These are the people who have realized what life really is. Most of them have faith too.
And then there’s Mary of Bethany in the Bible. What is it that she did that made Jesus say that every time the gospel would be preached her story would be shared?
I’ve never heard the gospel shared with her story. A prostitute pouring out perfume upon him, preparing him for burial. But if she’s a prostitute this isn’t only a perfume that would be valued at about a years worth of income- it also was her means of income. She was recognizing his death and saying, “Let me join you in this.” Basically, “If you go down I’m going with you.” She gave everything she had. Some translations say that she broke the flask. She took all she had and said, “You’re about to give all you have, this is all I got. You’re about to be broken, me too.”
And I think that’s the true invitation. He’s calling us to join him in his death. She knows his mercy- otherwise, she never would have been bold enough to sit at his feet. She never would have approached him pouring out her livelihood to him unless she knew his tenderness and lovingkindness.
And before he even invited her to suffer with him, she realized the call: join him in suffering love for the whole world. A life poured out so that others can taste the very same tender lovingkindness.
True compassion involves joining others in experiencing their pain. It is not feeling from afar, but joining in. Love joins in the pain. And I think that is what actually heals us.
Love wants to enter into the experiences of those they love. And when you enter into humanity, it inherently requires pain. God knew this, and the climax of entering into pain was to the point of death.
Song of Songs says it best:
“I’ve made up my mind. Until the darkness disappears and the dawn has fully come, in spite of shadows and fears, I will go to the mountaintop with you— the mountain of suffering love and the hill of burning incense. Yes, I will be your bride.”
Until we reach the point where darkness disappears completely we live in this interlinear state of bliss in the beloved and also joining him in his love for the world. Somehow pain is required in the process of loving the other- we will watch them go through hardship, watch them lose themselves, and he is inviting us to hurt with them through it all.
In the same way that when we share a smile, an adventure, or a cup of tea with another it is as if we are hugging God, when we cry with another, sit in silence over loss, and struggle when there is separation, we carry his cross.
Because when love is all about us we dip out real quick when it no longer brings comfort. But when the best for the other is at stake, we will go to great lengths to join them in it if it's love.
So if you’re heart is breaking at rejection, if it hurts to watch your friends go through it, then you’re in the right place.
But he always lets us taste the mercy before we break.
If I'm honest with myself, I've never had to face anything hard. I didn’t grow up with abuse, under the poverty line, or with some of the problems often faced by those growing up these days. Yet, we all have different levels of pain based on our experiences.
And here I am, now recognizing how desperate I am. I am just as capable of losing myself as the next person.
I went into the year at one of the highest points in my life, when I felt the closest to God, felt the most strong. Yet, I let a toxic relationship define me and ended up incapable of getting out of bed for many months.
How’s that for humbling?
I choose to believe that one day the darkness will flee, and how beautiful will it be to know I was apart of the story. To know that I got to be with Him on that cross.
I think there’s no other form of love other than suffering love, but what comes after the breaking is the sweetest of scents.
I'm banking my life on the fact that it will be well worth it.
There are a billion and one things I have thought about as college comes to a close. The main thing is this: College is not sustainable. And that’s okay.
In fact, that’s wonderful. Being young is about doing all the things that you would not be able to do otherwise. It’s about living without rhythms and then recognizing the need for them. It’s about running on coffee for days to learn that it’s not healthy. It’s about way too late of nights with friends to think deeply and love hard. It’s about living on In and Out and Ramen to have the money to fly across the world.
I have realized that the people who have changed the world most are those who have lifestyles that are completely unsustainable, yet they are possible because they are empowered by God.
When you look at the world, you will find that life seems to come in waves, pulses. I believe that our youth can look like one of them in its extremity. I recognize that depending on one’s privilege, the amount of responsibility one takes on will differ, but the opportunity for outcome is still at one of its highest in this point of our lives. There are other moments like this later on, but right now our bodies are strong and our limitations limited.
So I am asking this question, “What can I do now that I won’t be able to do when I’m not young?”
I’m recognizing I can make my biggest mistakes right now in college. I can turn in an assignment late and get 20% off the next day because I was out all night on skid row. I can drive to Koreatown at 1AM to drink coffee with friends and talk about our struggles. I can pull all-nighters to read the Bible nonstop for a week, and wake up at 3 AM to watch the sunrise in Joshua Tree before my 9 AM class. (that was a really bad idea that God definitely gave me grace for).
I’m not saying we should purposefully make mistakes. And I’m definitely not recommending that you rebel against God, but do radical things for him that may risk a mistake or two. And in doing this, we will see God’s grace not only for the things we’ve done wrong, but for the things we can do right. We might find our lives leading to impossible things.
We might find ourselves flying across the world just to play soccer with children we love and haven’t seen for 5 years simply because scholarships exist. We might see ourselves scaling mountains, learning new languages, and booking spontaneously flights to Florida.
This is not to say we should ignore our responsibilities but recognize how flexible they are right now. I think this is why every older adult tells me, “don’t waste your youth.”
Let’s not waste this freedom scrolling on Instagram or taking perfect pictures to forge memories. Let’s make memories. Do something worth posting. Let’s actually do crazy things with our youth to see the rest of the world benefit.
We can start businesses, make movies, travel far, love our neighbors, get something out of our textbooks, and make relationships across the globe. We can plant things now that will grow well into our 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s.
And it is okay if it is not sustainable. In fact, it won’t be, but we’ll learn as we go. My dad always says, “Life does not have to be balanced at a single point.” You may work your butt off for 5 years to live overseas with no income for the next 3. You may have one semester where you don’t leave your room, but the next, you never come home. Sometimes we get to sleep for hours, other days will lead to long nights.
Life is waves, pulses.
This is life's rhythm, and I'm learning to live taking advantage of it.
"To whom much is given, much will be required."-Jesus
Needless to say, I don’t naturally enjoy change. If you are one of those people that do, I applaud you. Life is suited for you, because it is always changing. But if you are like me and you crave stability, history in relationships, and consistency, join me in this adventure called change. This past year forced me to love it.
Change is good. Change is growth. Change is rarely comfortable, but it always produces an opportunity for faith.
I wonder where we got this idea that being comfortable is something we are meant to control?
I don’t think we are. I think comfort is found in God’s arms. People bring us comfort, but comfort is inherently his. After all, it’s in one of God’s names. But for me, I think I often found comfort in being able to define my life around me.
I knew who my best friends were, I had each one defined as so, and a roof and a warm bed that I always knew would be over me each night. When people got too close for comfort, I would make sure that it was defined as so, making sure they wouldn’t just leave. Nobody ever told me that I didn’t need to define everything. Now I recognize my unhealthy tendency to define everything and everyone around me. I learned that I don’t need to define things unless they need to be defined.
Has anyone else noticed our society’s obsession with comfort? Heck, my family won’t go to the movies anymore unless we have reclining AND heated seats.
But in all seriousness, has anyone questioned why we crave comfort so much?
Comfort seems to always want to steal the driving wheel of our lives and lead us to need control. I mean, I get it. Pain isn’t enjoyable, rejection isn’t fun, and we all hate being awkward.
But, I think it’s all worth to see the places we can go.
Beautiful people don’t just happen.
I was reminded of something God told me a few years back.
He usually wants us to choose the thing that requires the most faith.
And change is usually a one-way right to that.
Praise God that amidst all the change, there is one thing that is always consistent.
I think Olaf was right.
“there’s only one thing that is permanent: love.”