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Many religious traditions practice fasting, the idea of abstaining from food for a period of time for spiritual growth. But can fasting also help us reach goals in other areas?
I first fasted for one day at the age of 17. As a teenager, one day without food felt like a month! I made it, but it was more about reaching the goal than growing.
In college, I was challenged to fast through the writings and teachings of Bill Bright. He personally fasted for 40 days on multiple occasions later in life. He claimed it was a powerful method for personal spiritual awakening and for accelerating change.
I experimented during these years with various lengths of fasting. While always drinking water and other fluids to stay hydrated, my fasts included attempts at one day, three days, and longer times of fasting. For several years, I practiced a weekly 24-hour fast. I continue to periodically fast now, though less frequently.
While I never reached anything close to 40 days of fasting due to personal health concerns, I estimate I've now survived at least 200 days without food and lived to tell about it. Four observations have emerged I share for you to consider in the area of fasting.
1. Fasting focuses life on what is most important.
It's easy to dwell on the latest technology or the most recent notifications on our phones. Going without food for an extended period of time forces us to consider the "Why?" questions. Why am I going without food? What is my goal?
In my case, I've invested extra time in prayer, personal reflection, and sometimes in service to others. In each case, the emphasis on what is vital rather than superficial centers me in a fresh way.
In other words, my priorities can easily become lost. During fasting, I am forced to limit myself to key values that reveal what is most important.
2. Fasting improves my self-control.
If I can go a day or more without food, what other goal could I reach? I've often considered this question during times of fasting. My fasting provides new help and hope to consider pursuing goals previously left untouched.
For example, I was once known as a guy who crammed for tests at the last moment and barely finished my homework. With some of the discipline learned through regular fasting, I found myself becoming more disciplined and less rushed in my education.
3. Fasting surfaces unnoticed emotions.
When we are hungry, we can become angry. Some have even coined the term "hangry." While fasting, I find myself becoming emotional more easily. This can be a bad thing, but also surfaces emotions I have realized the need to address in more detail.
For example, my father passed away when I was 24. It was a busy season of life and I was determined to press on. In the process, I pushed away much of my grief without realizing it. 15 years later during a time of fasting and solitude, I realized how much my soul still needed to grieve.
It was after that time I began to take long runs to reflect, ultimately leading to the solitude needed to truly deal with emotions I had carried far too long.
4. Fasting changes how I view life.
I didn't realize how much fasting had impacted me until I took a camping trip with my son and some of his friends in a scout troop when they were younger. So much of the focus was on food!
Because of my habit of going for periods of time without food, this was not my first response. I could enjoy the nature around me—the trees, mountains, the lake—without concern for anything beyond the moment. More than I had previously realized, fasting had strengthened my ability to appreciate the moments of life.
I'm not a medical professional and don't recommend going long periods of time without food without consulting your doctor. However, from my personal experience and what I have learned from others, fasting clearly helps me see and live life differently.
This includes setting, pursuing, and achieving goals others do not. When we do what other will not or cannot do, we find a new and different life that transcends the norms of our society. Fasting has played an important role for me in this process. Though rarely mentioned, it is a habit that may help you as well.