People fast for a variety of reasons including working toward improved health, focusing on God and their faith, and breaking bad eating habits. A fast can be abstaining from something, focusing on a particular something or both. For example, a liquid fast is a fast from solid food and a focus on liquids (usually liquids like green tea, water and smoothies). People can fast to break habits too such as a fast from coffee or caffeine and chocolate or junk food. Whatever the focus, a fast is a deliberate and intentional approach to changing a specific area of a person’s life.
Fasts can be for a meal or they can be for a pre-determined period of time such as a 3-Day Green Smoothie Challenge. People often will fast a meal and then spend the time they would normally be eating in prayer, while others choose to go even more extreme and drink only water for an extended period in order to really deny the flesh and focus on the spiritual side of their lives. Whatever form a fast takes, it usually is done for a very specific reason (most commonly health or religious reasons). Essentially, a fast is a way to sort of hit a reset button and to be able to start again from a cleaner more balanced state.
The last quarter of 2011 saw way too much spending. While that may be true on many fronts (check out the national debt for example), I’m specifically referring to my and my husband’s personal spending. The truck needed new tires. The attic needed more insulation. We needed a bigger storage shed, so the garage didn’t have to be the storage shed. My teenager had yet another growth spurt and needed new clothes and shoes. My youngest son had sports-related fees. There were Christmas and birthday presents (both boys within 10 days before Christmas) to buy. There were doctor bills and prescription costs. (I though insurance was supposed to help with those.) There was extra food to buy for parties and family get-togethers. For some reason, we threw a family vacation to Disney in there too. By Christmas, I felt like our spending was out of control even though much of what we spent money on was necessary, and we weren’t accruing any debt. Still, there was this enormous weight that I couldn’t shake, and I dreaded having to spend money on anything, even basic groceries and other necessities.
Just before 2012 began, the idea of a financial fast started growing in my heart and mind. The more I thought about it, the more I just knew this would lead to the freeing feeling for which I was searching. So, I approached my husband with this idea, and he agreed without hesitation. Apparently he had been feeling the same way as me, and we hadn’t been communicating our feelings to each other very well. (Okay, not at all really.) We talked about how this would be a terrific exercise in self-control simply because it’s one we were choosing to make. We are choosing not to spend because we want to make that choice and not because we have to make it.
The parameters of our financial fast are this: No extra spending for the first quarter of 2012. That means all we plan to spend our money on is food, bills and our usual church tithe and giving. So, when I went to the grocery store earlier this week and my eyes started wandering toward a new headband – I know a silly, little purchase, but that’s really what happened – I told myself, “No extra spending!” and walked past that isle to what I needed to buy.
How can this help you? Maybe spending is not a problem for you, but I’m willing to bet that there is something in your life that is suffering from a lack of control on your part. Being human means struggling with self-control. The most common areas of struggle are with spending and food. (Don’t believe me? Check out the 10 most common New Year’s Resolutions. Debt and diet are two of them.) We too easily fall prey to what feels good and how quickly we can get it. In other words, we do what we want as quickly as we can. Instant gratification. So really, this spending fast is a lesson in delayed gratification for my husband and me.
Chances are, you know exactly what area requires your focus. If you still aren’t sure though, the New Year’s Resolution List mentioned above most likely will hit on a possible focus area for you. If that doesn’t reveal a possible “fast” area in your life, ask your friends and family. Either you’ll get offended enough to where you don’t want to talk to them thus revealing an area on which you need to work, or they will offer some highly insightful information. However you decide, try to pick one area on which you can focus either to fast from or to focus on doing more of for a fast.
For me, there are two keys to completing a fast. First, I must have tunnel-vision. Second, I need a replacement for whatever I am eliminating. So, I know I need to replace the bad (spending) with something good or at least better; otherwise, I’ll just be simply getting through or be downright miserable and end up in the same place I was when I started the fast. I do have the tunnel-vision I need, which is simply no extra spending as a way to focus more on the eternal rather than the temporal. Just seems like sometimes I am so earthly minded that I do little spiritual good. The replacement? Haven’t figured that part out yet.
QUESTION: A fast doesn’t have to focus on food intake. The concept of a fast can be applied to almost any area of life. What area of your life requires a fast?