"The advice in this article has been borne out of failing. Here is what I have learned works, and learned it the hard way."
Here is an honest confession: more often than not I have failed to complete the intended length of a fast. So, there you have it. A few years ago I would never have admitted to such weakness under the false pretense that perfection was a prerequisite to instructing others. Yet as I began to move into people’s lives I discovered a curious thing. People have a greater interest in my failures than my successes. They do not want another perfect suit and tie teaching how to run their lives. The kindest healer is one who has been sick. One learns as much about themselves face-first in the dirt as they do flying high above the clouds.
Albeit, still tormented with a perfectionist nature, what has changed for me today is that I am okay with failing. Why? Forty years on this earth has taught me success is not in the finishing, but the starting and not giving up. And starting after failure takes more courage than those who, unlike myself, seem able to float across the finish line without a care. For the crippled of soul, success is a journey full of failure, not a momentous event where we magically arrive and never fail again. Greatest of all, I have learned God never grows tired of new beginnings. Never!
Here’s a riddle: the harder it is to fast, the greater the blessing. This is true with many things in life. Our greatest challenges are our greatest teachers. If you have hidden issues, fasting will root them out. Old wounds ache afresh. Forgotten memories are remembered like they happened yesterday. Tough stuff. Tough, but vital to wholeness. I say bravo to those who fast even one day of their 30-day goal. You have taken a bold step. If you fail, take no time for self-indulgent guilt. Do not allow self-doubt to hold you down. Welcome yourself to the human race; then get up with God’s grace and start again.
I have stopped asking people if they ever tried fasting. The inevitable response is a coy, "well, I tried fasting years ago but . . ."
I do not know what percentage of people complete the length of the fast they set out to achieve, but my experience is many fail in misery, only reaffirming what they believed in the first place: I have no self-discipline. This is why few attempt stepping out of their comfort zone; the greatest discomfort is the thought of failure.
Let me go deep for a moment. The foreboding of failure is rooted in a common fear that our entire life is a well-contrived disguise, hiding the loser we really are inside and failure is when our true self peeks through. Not everyone carries this spiritual wound; I have known those who bulldoze through failure only to grow stronger. But they are rare. For the rest of us, we balk and hesitate. Yet ironically, we “failures” are attracted to the narrow path of fasting because it creates an environment of healing.
Goals are necessary. I write a list of them every day and, once complete, love the feeling of crossing them off. But goals are not laws. I have found there are larger goals that govern the smaller ones, like remaining in peace. Not being ruled by guilt. If I fail to get the dishes done or complete ten days of a 30-day fast, or restart a fast five times before completing it, I am okay with this. Besides, if I remain in peace and do not beat myself up with guilt, I am far likelier to eventually succeed. Guilt turns goals into laws.
Failure takes courage. In fact, the information in this article has been borne out of failing, and afterward asking the question why. Here are some helpful points.
You Will Eat Again
I recall my first 30-day fast. I was 20 days deep, up to my ears in a 48-hour cleansing crisis. It felt like I had not eaten for years. Tried to remember the experience of eating and could not. Then, this wild thought came out of nowhere. What if on day 29, a Great Depression falls over the entire globe creating massive food shortages, just in time for me to quit my fast? Shelves cleared of cinnamon danish, topped with sour cream icing. The ones I was forced to watch a co-worker eat every lunch and fantasized about at night. I’m not overstating when I say I began to panic. Weighed the possibilities, checked the paper, paged through some prophecy books, reread Revelations, a food shortage was imminent. Called a friend for the umpteenth time—help! He assured me that my emotions were running wild, and I would eat again and in fact enjoy eating more than ever before. Crazy stuff happens in the mind when fasting. I almost quit my fast over some inane fear.
When you are feeling trapped by the fast, remember, you will eat again! In fact most of your waking hours will be filled with eating. So, relax and enjoy a holiday from the rigors of eating—the cooking, cleaning dishes, grocery shopping and fighting to remain on a healthy diet. Enjoy the few days of fasting; the world of eating will come far too quickly and, like a great vacation, the fast will be one of many pleasant memories recalled later in life.
The Detox Blues
Many times, during a heated instant with one of my daughters, I have had to command my legs to walk away. I knew the next words out of my mouth would end in stinging regret. What I felt justified to say in anger would be totally wrong in the cool reason of later. Walk away, take some breaths of objectivity, calm my emotions, then come back and confront with a clear mind.
There are times we simply cannot trust our judgment, impaired with distorted emotions running crazy. It is not only women who battle with up and down cycles. Flesh is fickle, and it is a wise man that is acquainted with his own weakness.
When singing the Detox Blues, never ever quit a fast! You simply cannot trust emotions and thinking when detoxifying. During detox, melancholy can come on through increased sensitivity. Exercising authority over emotions during detox will develop maturity.
You cannot believe in the way you are feeling. Do not empower depression with faith. Establish your faith on Christ. Unlike emotions, thinking and the wind, He is unchanging. The Detox Blues will pass, leaving you better for the experience, possessing a greater knowledge of your human feebleness. Knowledge is strength.
Watching TV while on a spiritual fast will become increasingly ridiculous. In every commercial you are being tempted with food. Most of all, it destroys your Christ-focus. Heavens, it’s not going to kill you to turn off the TV and radio and stop buying the newspaper for a few weeks! The world will continue happily along without your inspiring analysis. Of the many times I have broken a fast, I can usually trace it back to allowing myself some form of earthly distraction.
When I first start a jog I feel uncomfortable and irritated. After about 15 minutes I get into the zone. A rhythm. It is a healthy, altered state and man, does it feel great. The world literally fades away, thoughts clarify. Some of my best stuff happens in the zone. Fasting has a zone. Allow yourself to get there. Create a healthy distance between you and the world for a period of time.
Even a short fast has many different stages. Fasting speeds up emotional states to the point where, one moment you will have a sense of closeness to God with a feeling of well-being and the next moment, the bottom falls out and you feel empty and cold. Remember that a tug-of-war is going on in the soul between the flesh that is being inflicted, and the spirit that is being strengthened.
You are the most vulnerable when you’re feeling deprived. That is the time when you must be aware of the temptation to find an escape. Let God be your entertainment. Turn to Him when you feel deprived.
Look for your Bible, not the TV converter!
Avoid Needless Temptation
The smells and sight of food can be difficult during a fast. As you continue along the path of fasting, all five senses will increase in sensitivity. When the next door neighbor opens a jar of fresh peanut butter, you will know it. Every desire to draw closer to God will be obscured in the wonderful smell of peanuts. All you can imagine is the smooth, delicious flavor of peanut butter melting on freshly browned toast.
During a fast, you will be surrounded with the hostile world of food, especially in a country that has become addicted to eating. Do all you can to separate yourself from temptations. Of course your children need to eat. Do your best to arrange a schedule where your spouse is able to do the cooking. This also can be an excellent situation for your children to experience a sense of responsibility in the home. You can plan meals for the next five, 20 or 30 days, or however long you decide to fast. They may not want to, but once your family sees that your decision is firm and that this is important to you, they will support you. You are displaying a powerful example they will never forget.
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