Lessons Learned from Fasting

lessons learned from fasting

[Guest Post by Elise Boggs – We met many years at North Coast Church. She worked on staff with the College ministry, and I was serving as a volunteer in the 20-something ministry. It’s pretty amazing to see how far she has come. If you find yourself like Elise, unfamiliar with fasting — I think you will like to hear her story.]

Miracles do happen.

Last year was a challenging year. I made the decision to leave my role in ministry, I ended a two year relationship, and I became overwhelmed with anxiety to the point of being issued a mandatory three month sabbatical by my doctor.

I felt like a stranger in my own skin.

My identity as a visible leader in ministry was traded for anonymity. The hope of an enduring relationship was replaced with the issuance of metaphorical “Go back to Start” card. My challenges with anxiety bubbled to the surface the day I went into work and shortly thereafter returned to the parking lot because of a panic attack.

I thought I was dying — in a sense I was. There were ways I was functioning that did not work anymore, ways that needed to die.

The first sermon of the new year  I heard was based on Philippians 3:13 where Paul encourages us to forget what lies behind and reach forward to what lies ahead. I decided to start the year off with a spiritual discipline I have always avoided.

Like people who say (those people being me) that they aren’t runners, I always believed I was not one of those people who could fast. I am a lightweight. two glasses of wine is my limit, energy drinks make me nauseous, and I once threw up Golden Spoon frozen yogurt because it was too sweet for me.

When I thought of fasting, I envisioned myself failing miserably, too weak and disoriented to grasp any spiritual insights.

Despite my hesitations, I felt a nudge to start this year differently and attempt a fast. To help me acclimate to this discipline, I chose the Daniel fast, which is a 21-day partial fast consisting of fruits, vegetables, water, nuts, beans, and whole grains. The only beverage permitted is water.

Here are three of the most significant lessons learned from fasting.

1. I can change. I am a foodie. I watch the Food Network and read cook books like novels. My friends know that if they are looking for a recommendation for a good place to eat, I have a mental file cabinet of every cuisine stored away for every occasion. I enjoy every kind of food and am every person’s easiest guest because I like everything.

Enjoying food is a good thing. Being addicted to certain things, especially those that aren’t good for you is another. My addiction? Starbucks! A single day does not pass that I don’t think about my next Starbucks beverage. My daily ritual consists of coffee at home in the morning to wake me up and an afternoon fix at Starbucks to keep me going.

2. It’s not you, it’s me. When you care for something, you protect it. This fast has caused me to be more discerning about what I do and do not allow into my body. When going out to eat with friends, I have had to stick by these values as I watch them enjoy my favorite coffee or bite into a delicious burger.

As the days passed and I remained committed, I noticed that I began to experience a care for myself and well being in a way that has been foreign for me. Cherishing the body God gave me has been a tangible way to show love to myself, a continual message of my value to be nourished and protected.

3. The best exercise of my self will is letting go. The book of Daniel illustrates a constant struggle between submission and power. Daniel is submissive to God and His ways of living. The kings of the time were interested in their own power and half hearted in their devotion to God, despite the miracles they witnessed in Daniel’s life. During this fast I realized I have a hard time submitting to God.

My fears whisper that if I surrender, I might get hurt. Like the kings of Babylon, I do many things, even good things in my own strength, but have not experienced the miracles Daniel did. I often wonder if miracles even still happen? I don’t want to get my hopes up, but deep down I do.

The focus of a fast is spiritual — it is not an excuse for a diet or vanity.

I have not stepped on a scale since I began the fast. Surrender and submission are often associated with weakness, but if I take God at His Word, He says in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that “My grace is sufficient for you; my power is made perfect in weakness.”

I have heard this verse, but I don’t know that I have lived this verse. I have a hunch it’s because I have not fully surrendered those areas in need of his grace and power and I have been sitting in the nosebleed section in the house of miracles.

I anticipated symptoms of withdrawal and probable failure, but to my surprise this has not been the case at all. God’s power is the reason this fast was easy. I have no other explanation for it. My willpower is less than stellar when it comes to food. Each time I drove past a Starbucks, His power kept me moving forward forgetting what was behind and moving towards a new future. When I was hungry, He gave me patience to prepare a meal and not worry that it was taking away from something more productive. Each time I smelled meat cooking or went out to eat with someone, God kept my thoughts fixed not on what I couldn’t have, but what I could have,  a second helping of Him.

I have struggled for freedom in so many areas without success and I believe God in His mercy allowed me to experienced freedom in this seemingly small way to give me confidence of His power in the other areas of my life that seem insurmountable.

He is teaching me that I can change!

I can be free from anxiety, depression, financial struggles, approval addiction, unhealthy relationships — with His help and doing it His way, I can be free.

Who knew being released from these small things would have larger implications? Romans 12:2 promises us that God can transform us into a new person by changing the way we think. During my fast, my thinking shifted from believing that I could not overcome deeply ingrained habits to being set free in a very short amount of time.

This has larger implications for so many areas of my life where I have been battered and bruised or compromised my values for the approval and acceptance of others. It is easiest to blame something external, but the truth is that I don’t believe that I have loved myself in a way that has let the good in and protects from the bad.

I have come to believe my challenges with anxiety are rooted in my own self-neglect. But there is hope!

Now that I have had a taste of what it looks and feels like to care for my body, I can begin learning what it means to live out the message of Proverbs 4:23 which says “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.”

Elise BoggsElise currently teaches at Chapman (Brandman) University in the MBA and Organizational Leadership programs. She also directs her own consulting practice specializing in leadership training, team and organizational development, and career and life coaching. Connect with Elise at {eliseboggsconsulting} at {gmail} dot {com}.

[Photo: Susan L., Flickr]