Fasting and Dog Treats

As a Christian, I’ve kind of gone back and forth on the “fasting” issue.  It’s not that I thought it was bad; just that with my particular upbringing, it was not highlighted or explained or really even discussed at all.  When I was in my early 20’s, I had a friend (not a Christian) ask me what the point of it was.  She had a co-worker who was fasting during their lunch hour.  She said that he explained it as a time you were supposed to be more focused on God.  She stated that she could understand this if he had used the time to go away and pray or something, but he still hung out with everyone else during lunch; he just didn’t eat, so she didn’t see the point.


I found myself at a loss for explaining anything to her.  I was only moderately distressed by this as I didn’t see it as a big point of contention with the Gospel and had never really entertained fasting as a regular thing to do in life.  In short, I considered it an elective; “Hey, if it helps you with your walk with God, go ahead.”  That was my attitude.


As I’ve gotten older and (hopefully) learned a little bit more, I’ve come to see it as something more than an elective – not in a legalistic sense, but as a true method of allowing God more space in our lives to communicate with us and as a means to display our devotion to Him.  I’m not talking about asceticism to the point of bodily harm.  I mean fasting according to what the Holy Spirit calls.  And I also do not mean fasting only in the sense of food.  I think fasting has much more far-reaching implications than simply not eating.  During Lent people may say they are fasting from television or shopping or caffeine or whatever the Lord shows them is impeding their walk with Him or becoming something they depend on.  As I’ve come to see it as something that is an integral part of my walk with God and my spiritual growth, I’ve gone through several stages. 


The first stage was what I will call “deliberate fasting.”  (And here I am talking about food.)  I decided, at one point, that food fasting was good for you, soul and body (incidentally, I still believe it is), so I made it part of what I did.  I would fast one day a week, but my attitude about it was wrong.  I was doing it as a rote practice; just making it part of my religious regimen.  And not only that, I was doing it for selfish reasons as well – because I wanted to reap the rewards; not so much because I was hungry for God and what He was offering me.  Needless to say, like all things done simply because you feel you “ought” to do them, like diets, my “deliberate fasting” did not last for very long.  It did not mean anything, and my spirit felt that.


The second stage was “desperate fasting”.  This was done when I was so at a loss for what to do in my life that I felt like I had to do something in order to beg God for some direction.  Since I didn’t have any other methods of control to exert in my physical life, fasting became my means to reach God.  “If I only fast enough, He’ll see how serious I am about wanting His guidance.”  Though I do believe fasting in desperate times is called for and exhibited in the Bible, mine was never out of a sense of repentance or, again, out of a desperate hunger for God; it was out of a desperation for God to help me out with my life.  This only serves as an attempt to manipulate God, which is ridiculous for two reasons.  First, the idea that we can manipulate an omnipotent, omniscient God is just silly.  Second, the idea that we need to manipulate God in order to reap the best rewards indicates a complete lack of understanding about how much He loves us.  At least I knew God was the source and I employed prayer as well (which is never bad), but I was not seeking Him.  I was seeking what He could do.


And now we come to the third stage, which I think I am sort of in the midst of learning and I will call “deepening fasting.”  This is where the dog treats come in.  If you’ve followed my blog at all, you’ll sort of know that my life has sort of been turned upside down this year – at least in any practical sense.  A lot of it was through personal choice, so I am not going to pretend that external things just “happened” to me, but at the same time, it’s kind of to a level that I hadn’t expected or planned for.  Most of what makes a person feel secure is up in the air or has been rattled this year.  For example: housing, finances, jobs, relationships, health, church, pets (I know, I’m not sure pets count, but in my situation, my pet dying was yet another thing lost).  I don’t want to go into each story, though some you could trace bits of through past posts.  Let’s just say all of this has left me feeling pretty detached from anything except family, friends and God.  Don’t get me wrong – I am very grateful that I still have family, friends and God, as I would have always deemed those the most important, though not in that order.  Still, the others play key roles in most of our lives and whether we like it or not, they serve to provide some measure of security and validation.


I was talking to a friend of mine last night and she asked me what my life was like right now.  (Great question, by the way – much better than “How are you?”)  I told her that I felt like I was standing in the middle of an empty room, and though there was nothing really holding me there, I didn’t really feel any great motivation to walk outside of it either.  My answer kind of startled me, even though that seems silly since it came out my mouth.  However, it struck me as unnervingly profound, and I found myself analyzing it after my conversation with her ended and on into this morning.


At points in this period of detachment from the world that I’ve been going through, I’ve been completely at peace with it – accepting that it is only temporal and the eternal is what counts.  However, at other points, I’ve found myself grasping at the same worldly things I’ve been stripped of because I caught a glimpse of what looks like a good option.  This seems to recur – a regular pattern in my existence.  I don’t mean for it to, but my fleshly nature just keeps rising from the grave every time I think I’ve buried it.  (That’s probably part of my problem – taking my eyes off of God and trying to take care of it myself.)


I think God emptied my life of the peripheral things in it – the things that were not contributing to what He had for me.  And now He is asking me to stay there until He says otherwise.  Not because He necessarily expects me to remain in all of my present circumstances – but because He needs me to realign my motivation.  And so, I am in this empty room that I feel He has purposely emptied.  God wants to fill my life up with things that He has for me in order to live the abundant life He offered me and so that He can use me in the manner He has planned, which, for the record is the same thing (abundant life=allowing God to do with your life as He will).  So, at points in this journey, He has re-introduced things back into that room, bits of things that He may have for me or have for me to do at some point – good things.  But so far, I feel that I am failing when I am shown those glimpses of good things – that I am content to sit in the room and rely on Him whenever I see no way to exert my own effort and no way to pursue anything.  But that when He brings the glimpse of what He wants me to have or to do into my vision, I immediately stop relying on Him and say, in essence, “Oh!  That’s what you have for me, God?  Cool.  I’ll take it from here.  You’ve been a big help.”  And then I make the pursuit of the “thing” my focus instead of the pursuit of God who wants to give me the thing.  And so God empties the room again and says, “No.  You haven’t got it yet.”


OK, OK, I know you’re wondering where the dog treats are coming in.  Here goes: I was dog-sitting a couple of months ago, and the dog was a bit unruly.  I won’t name names.  In my frustration, for a few days, I tried to teach the dog to “stay.”  I gave up, although my efforts were working; the rewards of training someone else’s dog didn’t seem quite worth it.  Anyway, I don’t think this dog had been taught much of anything, and it definitely had not been taught, “Stay.”  So, I would take a treat and make the dog sit (it did seem to know that one).  Then I would say, “Stay,” and back up a step.  If the dog moved, I would make it go back to where it was sitting, and we would start the process all over again.  At first, I would just back up with the treat a short distance.  As the dog did better, I would walk further.  I actually got across the room a couple of times.  Whether the dog got the treat or not had to do with its priorities.  If obedience was its first priority and it was looking to me as its “master” for direction, it would get the treat, but if the treat was its first priority, it got nothing.  Granted, a clever dog could probably figure out where the treats are and break the container or tear open the bag or whatnot and get his own.  But a good dog really wants to please its master and knows this is not the way to do it.  Now, this dog, being in the initial training stages, did poorly if I held the treat up tantalizingly before him throughout the process.  If I didn’t show him the treat, he did somewhat better.


And this is where I’ve been, if we can pretend that I am a dog and God is my master.  God’s been trying to teach me to “stay.”  I do all right at it if I can’t see the “treat.”  There’s not much for me to run after.  I’m content to listen to Him telling me to stay.  But when He brings it out and shows me, my instinctual reaction is to run towards it immediately.  However, all that does is make God put me back in my initial place and say, “No, let’s try that again.  Wait until I call you.”


I don’t know how many false starts I will have to make before I learn the lesson.  I know I’ve made several already, and God keeps putting me back in that empty room.  It’s a peaceful empty room, not a scary one.  I know He wants to fill it up with His provisions.  I just need to stop looking at the provisions and start looking at HIM.


All right, so now you are wondering, what does that have to do with fasting???  Waiting on God to tell me I can come have the treat is like a period of fasting, in whatever area that waiting manifests.  What I realized today is that fasting is a way of life – fasting from all that God does not have for me; fasting from the world.  Usually when I think of a fast, I think of putting a time limit on how long I will abstain from something.  I am starting to look at fasting as simply not partaking of things until God gives me the go ahead – committing to not chase after the things of this world in order to satisfy my own needs and desires, but in all things seeking to please the Master first, trusting that He will provide for my needs.


I know that there are seasons of fasting as well, and God blesses it any time it is done out of a sense of hunger for HIM – times when the hunger we feel from a food fast is a welcome feeling because it is indicative of the desire we have for God.  I am definitely not trying to undermine fasting in that sense.  Just noting that a life following God will be constantly seeking Him and will never seek to satisfy the flesh without first looking to the Master’s wishes, like the dog that learns to look at its master before going for the treat.  And hopefully, the priorities begin to outline the motivation and we begin to obey not in order to receive the treat, but in order to please the Master.  Maybe this doesn’t even qualify as fasting; maybe that’s just living a Spirit-led life…but that’s how it struck me today.