“Hunger is the greatest teacher I have ever known,”1 wrote my friend, Jean-Paul Tiendrebeogo in his book My Faith or My Family. Born and raised in Burkina-Faso, one of the poorest countries on Earth, Jean-Paul has known real hunger, an ongoing “lifestyle” of being sick and dazed from the lack of daily intake. It meant days and nights of “grounding,” as he calls it, stomach ulcers he endured by physically positioning himself—twisting and bending in any way he could—to ease the pain. Curious, I asked him, “What did hunger teach you?”
“Hunger causes you to cling to God, to press toward Him in prayer,” Jean-Paul replied, “Being in need in general draws you to your knees for greater dependence on God.” He continued, “Hunger opened my eyes to have a heart of thankfulness and appreciation, and not to take what I have for granted. It taught me to relate to people who are in a state of hunger and to be compassionate, because I was there and I know what it is like.” Opening himself further, he added, “I learned as a young boy not to cry, because no one is going to listen to me. You get up and you walk; you work hard, you persevere.” My own words eluded me, for I, by contrast, have almost never missed a meal; in fact, I’ve “grazed” at will from pantry tablelands throughout my days.
How ironic, then, that of the two of us, Jean-Paul is the one who has willingly returned to hunger through the discipline of fasting. So, I asked my friend, “Why do you fast now?” He responded without hesitation, “The greater the need, the more deeply I will cling to God. I put out my heart to Him the best I know how … I deprive myself to seek the will of God.” And God has honored Jean-Paul’s searching heart. “I learned to be in the presence of God. Some of the greatest and deepest revelations I have had came through my fasting,” he said, “and I have come away no longer hungry in the same way, but filled up in a spiritual sense.”
Whether it was what Jean-Paul said or the passion in which he said it that inspired me more, I am not sure, but over coffee that morning, I was persuaded to fast as God leads me to. For though Jean-Paul could never pass along to me what hunger had taught him, he did teach me this—that fasting is a spiritual adventure that leads us closer into the presence of God, who never sends us away empty.
Father, you have made me, and you provide all I need. Draw me closer to you and show yourself to me, for you alone are my sustenance. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
Christ in me is strength.
Read the story of Queen Esther leading the call to fast in Esther 4:6-17.
1 Jean-Paul Tiendrebeogo, My Faith or My Family, (Terentum, Word Association Publishers, 2008), 52.