At the church I attend, January of each year is a month of prayer and fasting. This was new to me a few years ago, but thanks to the teaching and direction the church has provided, it has become something that I look forward to. There’s still a lot about fasting that I don’t understand. But today, and in the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing some of my thoughts and experiences on the topic.
First, I’ll tell you about what I believe was my very first fast. It may not be what you think, because it had nothing to do with food. It was a fast from shopping. Some may find this laughable, but it highlights one of the points I am trying to emphasize: fasting is a personal thing, and takes many different forms. There aren’t ‘rules,’ and you certainly can’t judge the quality or value of another person’s fast because it may seem ‘easy’ to you. A fast from shopping, at the time, was hard for me and helped me to grow in my character. On the other hand, a fast from video games or alcohol would have been a breeze – I don’t really use those things anyway. But that kind of fast may be difficult for others.
In the same way, one person may fast from food for one or two meals, and another may fast for three or more days. They are all valid. Each person knows what will stretch them and cause them to lean on God for strength, and the Holy Spirit will lead you into the type of fast He knows that you need.
I didn’t actually call it a ‘fast’ when I quit shopping. I was in my early 20s, and I loved clothes. I did my best to keep up with the latest trends. But they come and go very quickly, and if you’re going to stay current, you’ll spend a lot of time and money doing so. If you purchase the top, you’ll need the pants to go with it. Which need the shoes, which need the jacket, which need the purse, which need the necklace. It’s never-ending. The wardrobe will never be complete! It’s a brilliant business strategy on the part of clothing designers, isn’t it?
Since I was newly married, and we lived on a miniscule income, I knew I wouldn’t be able to continue like this. I also didn’t like the way I never felt satisfied with what I had, even though I had lots of clothes. I thought about clothes more often than I should have, and wondered if it was becoming an obsession. I knew that the only way to stop my constant craving for material things, would be to avoid going to malls altogether – for a time. I didn’t know how long it would take, but I made an inner commitment to stay away from them until I felt some freedom from my impulsive wants.
Looking back, I now realize that this was a form of a fast. 1 Corinthians 6:12 says: “‘Everything is permissible for me’ – but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible for me’ – but I will not be mastered by anything.”
Fasting can be a way to wean ourselves from the otherwise good things in our lives, that we have come to rely on too heavily. They monopolize too much of our thoughts, time, or efforts, and they stand in the way of God’s work within us. This is a form of idolatry. An idol is anything taking a place that rightfully belongs to God. When we put limits on these things, or even cut them out entirely, we free up much-needed breathing room in our schedules and often-distracted thoughts. This may leave a void at first, but if we give our emptiness to the Holy Spirit, pressing into Him through activities such as meditation on scripture, prayer, or worship, we will sharpen our awareness of His movements and His words. He may even free us from wanting so badly the things that we desired before.
I would say that my shopping fast was successful because, after a few months of avoiding shopping malls, they weren’t such a draw for me any more. Now, I select clothes very carefully based on my actual needs. I still want them to look nice and be current, but I choose practical items that suit the way I live, and I don’t spend more than I should on them. I don’t worry about trying to follow every trend that I see. What a relief! This frees up much-needed energy that I can now spend on other things.
I’ve heard of people fasting from all kinds of things besides food. Social media is a big one – which I’m planning to talk about in an upcoming post. Anything that occupies a large space in your life can become something to fast from: TV, perhaps, or video games, or other hobbies (like blogging!). Some people, who really love to exercise, have even fasted from that. (This wouldn’t be relevant for me…haha!)
If you want to fast from something other than food, you may ask yourself: Is there anything that has a stronger hold on me than I would like it to? The first thing that pops into your head, may very well be the answer. How much time, energy, or perhaps even money would be saved by giving it up for a time? And what would you like to do with the surplus?
Have you ever fasted from something other than food? What was it? I would love to hear about it in the comments section below.
Until next time, warm wishes, and happy fasting, if you choose to do so!