Last week we highlighted the release of Mbird contributor Russ Masterson’s first e-book, 40 Days Without Food: Divine Goodness to a Starving Soul. This week Russ was kind enough to do a little interview with us about the project.
You wrote in the introduction that six years went by between the day your fast ended and when you wrote the book. Tell me about the pause.
Well, I’m constantly writing, and I kept a journal during the fast. I didn’t do it because I had some grand idea of a book some day. I just did it because that’s what I always do. I need a place to vent and create. A few months after the 40 days I fiddled with some of the entries to see if there was a book in there somewhere but I couldn’t find anything.
Six years later I revisited the material and was surprised by what I saw. I suppose that during the 40 days, and even the months following, I didn’t know how the story ended – how my life, which I was so manic about, would play out. I don’t think I could have written the book until the story was complete.
So, your story is completed?
No, by no means. Like everyone else, I’m completely a work in progress. Not a remotely pristine work either, more of a rough around the edges one. What I mean is that I had reconciled some of the issues I was wrestling with during those 40 days – purpose, faith, money, love – pretty much the big themes of life.
So, this book isn’t really about fasting or spiritual discipline, is it?
You guessed it. It’s about those larger themes, about purpose and value, the Gospel ultimately, which I began to understand a little better during those 40 days.
40 days seems forever not to eat. Was it as awful as it sounds? Or did it fly by?
Plenty of people have completed even longer fasts, and they say it flew by. Not me. It was the longest 40 days of my life. A lot of it felt like slow motion, which is a benefit and also a curse. In that you can sometimes see things a little more clearly when they’re moving slower, but you can also get stuck, and beat yourself up even more.
What was the most challenging part of the process?
Fasting removes one of the things (food) that cushions us from despair. When the cushion is gone we begin to feel the painful, broken places within us more acutely. Our depravity, to use the theological language. The most challenging part was having to resist the temptation to explain away the things I was upset about, using the hunger as an excuse for my shortcomings etc. I found that owning up to the reality of who I was and the darkness of my condition was equivalent to asking God to come into the parts of my life I was trying to control.
How has the experienced changed your outlook?
I wish I could go back and talk to the anxious person I was before the fast and just tell myself to calm down. I’d tell myself that tomorrow will come. The timeline will play out in God’s timing as we wait and work. But I know that I never would have listened. Just as I don’t listen now!
You talk a lot about your shortcomings in the book, your doubt and despair. Did you find it to be exhausting and depressing to rehash those things?
I don’t think so. And it’s not as though those things aren’t always close at hand. I suppose I don’t think unconditional love makes much sense until you realize you don’t deserve it. Only then do you sense the relief and rescue it provides.
To be honest, if I had one hope for the book, it would be that it might help people to get in touch with those parts of themselves that are depressed and exhausted. To quit scrutinizing and judging themselves so much, and maybe even to begin to operate from a refreshed understanding of God’s love: the reality that we are worthy before we are worthy, we are lovely before we are lovely.
40 Days Without Food is available on the Kindle, Nook, and iPad (via the free Kindle app for iPad).