With a lot of people fasting during this season of lent, it might seem like a strange time to tell the story about a time when God put me on an “unfast,” but here goes.
I’m typically a very positive person, and I love spreading warm fuzzies wherever I go. I know it catches people off-guard sometimes, but I love seeing smiles light up faces when I compliment complete strangers on their shoes, or tell parents with young children trailing behind them at Costco they’re doing a great job; I also love to hear smiles coming through the phone when I thank customer service reps for being so very friendly and helpful. Every day we pass people who need encouragement, and I want to be a never-ending source of it. You seriously never know how your encouraging words might be just what someone else needs to hear to lift their spirits from a hidden—and sometimes not so hidden—place of pain and suffering.
You name it, we lost it—and then some.
It might surprise you to know that just a few short years ago, I had a completely different outlook on life. It all started when the market crashed in 2007. My husband lost millions of dollars and all of his assets in his property flipping business. And where the financial loss stopped, every other kind of loss started: our family home, business partnerships, friendships, reputation, any hope of saving for retirement, college savings for our four children, self-esteem, our shiny new Chrysler 300, and even family relationships. You name it, we lost it—and then some.
Leading up to this point in our lives, financial difficulty had always been an enormous fear of mine, and from the time we were first married I had prayed often that we would never experience “financial ruin.” After a few years of continued financial beatings as my husband tried his hand at a new business, we swallowed our pride—again—and filed for bankruptcy. By this time I was not only deeply fearful and saddened, but sincerely angry at God. To make matters worse, filing for bankruptcy didn’t solve all of our financial problems, especially after my husband and I both faced some serious health issues that left us with a mountain of medical bills. The longer I waited to see a real manifestation of that promised blessing and goodness I read about so often in my Bible, the harder my heart became. How could God let all of this happen when the Bible contains verses like Jeremiah 29:11 that assure us He has good plans for us? I knew He had forgotten me, maybe even hated me, and I slipped deeper and deeper into hopelessness and despair every day.
I had no idea that I was about to learn a vital truth about prayer: Attitude matters to God.
I’m a diligent prayer warrior, and believe me, I pulled out every prayer trick in the book I knew as I sought God to wake us up from this elongated nightmare. I’m sure I had fasted many times before, but one day I came to a point of desperation at which I decided to fast for one whole week to convince God—as if He didn’t already know—of just how desperate I had become.
I had no idea that I was about to learn a vital truth about prayer: Attitude matters to God. It’s not wrong to be desperate; it’s not wrong to be real with God about the pain and frustration you feel. He created our emotions, and He knows us better than we know ourselves, so we may as well be real with Him. But there is a fine line between hanging onto continued reverence and trust in your “realness” with God and acting like a demanding brat.
I picked a day to start fasting, and the day before I was planning to stop eating I began my pre-fasting strategy of gorging on everything I know I’d think about when I became hungry. All day I ate anything I wanted: Pancakes smothered in butter and syrup for breakfast, value meals from McDonald’s for both lunch and dinner, all kinds of chips, chocolate, cookies, brownies—I was eating for one week, and I was determined to make this opportunity count. My final stop for the day was a visit to the grocery store to stock up on several 2-liter bottles of 7-Up so I’d have some clear liquids with sugar for energy during the week. I was ready.
“You’re not going to fast.” God’s voice rang loud and clear in my ears.
Or so I thought…
With bits of fries still clinging to my teeth and my arsenal of pop in tow, I headed home. As I did, I talked to God about starting the fast the following day. I reminded Him of why I was doing it, and informed Him I was not eating for an entire week because I was so incredibly frustrated and unhappy. I told Him I hoped He would take pity on me and finally answer my prayers for financial blessing after all of the suffering He’d put me through. I had to make Him see how serious my pain was, and if this was what I had to do to convince Him, so be it.
“You’re not going to fast.” God’s voice rang loud and clear in my ears. Honestly, I don’t remember a time when He’s spoken to me more clearly than at that moment.
“What do you mean?” I demanded. “Why shouldn’t I fast? Besides, I have to now after eating all that crap today!”
“Instead of fasting, I want you to feast on gratefulness.”
My biggest problem was me, and how I had been reacting with angst to my problems rather than responding with trust in my Heavenly Father.
A sudden image filled my brain: I saw myself as a little girl sitting at the dinner table, my arms crossed, my face scrunched into an unpleasant glower, and my mouth shut tight in protest. A bounteous spread of delicious, nutritious food had been lovingly set before me, but I had my mind set on something else, and I had no appreciation for the supplier of the meal set before me or the meal itself, which had been prepared for my own good—just for me. My lips opened briefly to shout, “No! I won’t eat! Not until you give me what I want!”
Something about my life had to change, and for the first time in years, I realized the change had to start with me. My circumstances weren’t my biggest problem. My biggest problem was me, and how I had been reacting with angst to my problems rather than responding with trust in my Heavenly Father. God was right—I had many things to be thankful for, but my focus on my problems and disappointments had clouded my ability to see any of them. I had a choice to make: I could embrace gratefulness and appreciate the bounty of the table in front of me as I trusted God to work on the things I felt I was lacking, or I could continue to wallow in self-pity and negativity and miss out on the many things I could be enjoying in life.
Here’s the thing: Life will always throw us curveballs, and no one—not even the Queen of England or the president of the United States—is exempt. No matter who you are or what that curveball is, there are really only two choices: 1) learn to rejoice in the midst of suffering and use the opportunity to get closer to God, or 2) whine, complain, and make your circumstances all the more miserable.
From that point on, I did what God asked and decided I would indeed feast on gratefulness—every single day, several times a day, no matter what. And guess what? While my circumstances may not have immediately changed, the way I saw everything did, and suddenly everything—and I literally mean everything—mysteriously got better than I ever could have imagined.
In her book, One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp relates the story of Jesus thanking His heavenly Father in advance before calling Lazarus out of the tomb. In John 11:41b-42a Jesus says, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me; I knew that You always hear Me…” and He then performs the great miracle of raising dead Lazarus to life. Her one-liner rings in my ears all the time: “Thanksgiving precedes the miracle; thanksgiving raises the dead.” She couldn’t be more right.
I’ll close with this verse from 1 Timothy 6:6-7: ”Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.” Trust me, my “unfast” of feasting on gratefulness was the beginning of a whole new me, a whole new life, and a much deeper relationship with God. It can be for you, too.
Photo by Brian Chan on Unsplash
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