Holy Hunger


By Kevin Alton

When I first began participating in 30 Hour Famine events, I was a youth ministry volunteer who was mostly known for laying claim to a certain recliner in the youth room at all youth gatherings (I think eventually it actually had my name on it) and for walking around with a 2-liter of Dr. Pepper, nearly at all times. Back then I believe I was consuming 4-6 liters per day and probably found 12oz containers unbearably inefficient. Oh, to be young again.

In those early days of youth ministry, I simply couldn’t make it through a 30 Hour Famine. I believed, without bothering to medically verify it, that I had a borderline low blood sugar issue. The reality (realized later in life) was that I couldn’t handle the systemic shock of going cold turkey on all that sugar. But at each event I attempted, I’d ultimately (with permission) sneak out for a fast food burger after the youth were down for the night.

Nearly two decades later, a much fitter, happier, more productive version of myself was eating well and exercising regularly. My youth leadership team had agreed they wanted to participate in a 30 Hour Famine, and, much to my surprise, I discovered that I could do it. Rapture.

Here’s why I was so excited: for years, I’d been fascinated by the spiritual discipline of fasting. Fasting doesn’t get the press that other Christian practices do, because one of the first rules of fasting is that you don’t talk about fasting. It’s meant to be private, between you and God. It shouldn’t be uncommon—when Jesus talked about it, he said, “When you fast,” not “If you fast.” I’d never really felt capable of giving it a try, but now it seemed to be back on the table as a possibility.

I mention all of that to say this: it can feel weird to make a big thing of not eating for 30 hours. Your group will be well aware that they’re not experiencing an actual famine; some may even feel uncomfortable about drawing comparisons between what they’re doing and what others are actually living through. They may even feel guilty about feeling hungry, which obviously isn’t the intention.

I’d like to offer two ways of presenting the experience that may help your group engage it:

1. Solidarity doesn’t mean sameness.

Be as clear as possible that you’re not trying to replicate the conditions experienced by others. Standing in solidarity with those who are suffering can take on many appearances for different lengths of time. What your group chooses to give up for what length of time simply shows intentional care and focus. That’s a good thing.

2. Fasting can be experienced as a means of grace.

The deliberateness of fasting is the most important part of the practice. It’s user-defined; you might choose to give up cheeseburgers for a month or milkshakes for all of 2017 (I’m definitely writing this at lunchtime). What matters most is that the practice you select dials you in to a place of resonance with God—the fast you’ve chosen reminds you to be mindful of God. For a 30 Hour Famine, your group has probably agreed that they’ll fast from a certain hour on one day to a certain hour on the next. You’ve established holy ground. Honor it and be fed by it.