How to fast without giving up food? Is that even possible? Isn’t fasting by definition, “the foregoing of food” (literally: “to abstain from all or some kinds of food or drink especially as a religious observance” (Oxford Languages)?
But ever since Social Media has been a thing, I’ve heard of people giving it up and calling it a fast… It’s obviously a “thing”, so maybe we need to look at the purpose of fasting beyond the words on the page and see if there might be other ways we can reap the rewards.
If you can’t fast (because of age or health, for example) or have been “fasting” but without much success, this post is for you.
What is Fasting?
We could expand the definition of fasting to extend to, “abstaining from that which ordinarily fills us”, or in everyday words, voluntarily giving up whatever we normally run to for comfort or pleasure.
But there is still a big problem with this definition.
When an unclean spirit goes out of a person it roams through arid regions searching for rest but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my home from which I came.’ But upon returning it finds it empty, swept clean, and put in order. Then it goes and brings back with itself seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they move in and dwell there; and the last condition of the person will be worse than the first. – Matthew 12:43-45
Fasting isn’t about emptying ourselves.The definition shouldn’t focus on the abstaining part. It is about emptying ourselves so that we can be filled with something different.
We don’t give up food or comfort for the sake of giving up food or comfort, we only do this in order to say something else is more important than that food or comfort. We fast in order to make ROOM in our bodies, our hearts, and our minds, for God. He is the guard, the watcher of the house, the One who desires to reside there, and make it impossible for anything or anyone else to break in. (Read Matthew 24:43, or Luke 12:39)
And He is simply waiting.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. – Revelation 3:20
Replacing Food/Comfort with God
Wendy Speake taught me this (with a little help from the Holy Spirit, of course) when she explained how, while she fasted, she put her Bible on a literal cake stand on her kitchen counter so that every time she was tempted to run to food, she ran instead to Him. 10 years of hating fasting, fighting fasting, failing at fasting, and misunderstanding fasting melted away in an instant when I read those words. I didn’t need to put my Bible on a cake stand, but when my mind and my body started screaming for what I wanted, I finally had something to do with those emotions. I didn’t simply settle on a new addiction, I learned to pray.
For more on why we fast and satiating the hunger of our souls, you can read Wendy Speake’s book Sugar Fast (not an affiliate link) or more of my posts from this fasting series:
- Why Fast? 5 Surprising Reasons to Embrace Spiritual Fasting
- How to Practice Spiritual Fasting in a Sustainable Way
11 Alternatives to Fasting that don’t Involve Food
What else could we “Fast” from in order to to let God fill us (not food)?
Disclaimer* I am about to make a list of ideas you might want to try. Please, keep in mind that not all of these may apply to every person, nor am I suggesting that anyone do these things all at the same time. Remember the point of fasting, giving up something is only meaningful if that thing matters to you… if it is taking up space in your heart – ie. if you run to it for comfort or fulfillment over running to God. If an item on this list doesn’t apply to you, ignore it. If you find multiple items apply to you, just pick the most obvious one first to begin working on. We make progress one step at time. You can add up to 3 more, slowly and intentionally, if it doesn’t feel challenging enough at first. When it hurts, its working… Your efforts need to make you RUN to Him, but not be so unreasonable that you quit in desperation before you even begin.
Last Important Note: Each “fast” can take many forms and be as personal as the individual doing the fast. These fasts, like all fasts, should also be SMART fasts – namely “Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely”. Be honest about where you are, there is nothing “impressive” about biting off more than you can chew and failing. The parameters should be set out beforehand and fully committed to by all parties involved so that your likelihood of success increases dramatically and you don’t have the option of making excuses or fudging details, mid-fast.
Fasting from Social Media
I put this one first because it is possibly the most obvious. Pulling ourselves away from the the mindless, mind-numbing, soul sucking scroll, and not allowing ourselves to become prey to the literal science of manipulation which is advertising, marketing, and sales, can’t be anything BUT good for us!
if you can’t put down your devices for 1 hour a day, 1 day per week and even 1 week at a time 3-4 times a year, in addition to while you are interacting in person, such as at meals, work, or family gatherings, you can pretty much be sure that this form of fasting could very much benefit you.
It can take many forms, maybe you start with not using your phone while in the middle of social gatherings, or around your kids/spouse. Or maybe you turn your phone off 1 hour before bed. Maybe, it is turning off all your notifications so that you have to be more intentional about your phone usage… or maybe its completely different and what you are really “addicted to” is gaming and you need to delete some apps. Whatever it is, you most likely know.
Are you willing to give that up for more of Him?
Fasting from Idle Conversation / Unnecessary Social Gatherings
If you talk just to talk, or if you get together with people just to “fill a void” in your life then you need to step back and asses how this is helping you grow closer to the God who designed you, not for copious quantities of rather random, just because relationships, but for intimacy, and not just intimacy, but intimacy with Him.
What do you talk about? Do your conversations edify you or leave you empty? Do you run to God when you are lonely or do you run to people?
Fasting from Complaining
It may seem strange to think, but it is absolutely possible to be addicted to pity. We get some kind dopamine flood of satisfaction of people feeling sorry for us and knowing how “difficult” our situations are. For some, complaining may feel like honesty; like pretending to be joyful would be a lie, therefore, I must burden everyone else with my woes all the time. For some it may even feel like generosity, letting other people know they are not alone in their struggles by seeking always to seem more pitiable than they.
I’m not telling you not to feel pain, or to pretend everything is just peachy all the time, in fact just the opposite. All I am suggesting is that you run to God with your woes rather than people. Run to the Healer and ask Him to touch you. Reach out and touch Him, instead of reaching for someone else. All they can do is offer you pity, He can offer you an actual solution.
Practical application – Mindset swaps
If God is love, then all things = gift. Yes, even struggles, trials, and pains.
We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28
If you begin to make a habit of treating everything that happens as an opportunity to love, to learn, to grow, or to be grateful for SOMETHING it will change your life.
Fasting from the News
It will all still be there tomorrow, and you don’t need to know everything. Not to mention, there is nothing you can do about it, nor does it (likely) have much bearing on your everyday life. This type of fasting can apply to current events and politics, but especially to gossip in your social circle and most especially in the Tabloids. Take this opportunity to pray for whatever or whoever you are worried about. If its politics, do your part but surrender the outcomes to God and let it go. If its the state of the world, pray for the world. If your kryptonite is the latest gossip or entertainment, pray for those people to find peace in their lives. Surrender it all to God: your worry, your Fear-Of-Missing-Out, your desire to know everything, all of it… Prayer will accomplish much more than worrying ever could.
Fast from Music and Television
Constant stimulus makes it impossible for us to be quiet. It make it impossible to settle our hearts and get in touch with the deeper side of our spirit. It makes it impossibly distracting to pray or contemplate anything of transcendent value if our brains are full of conflicting noises and images that don’t allow us to rest.
Fast from Physical Intimacy
This is hard, I get it. Sometimes it doesn’t even feel right! The emotions involved are too intense, too confusing… But that is precisely the reason why taking a break is a valuable pursuit. As difficult as it may be to imagine, there is a way to have a beautiful and healthy relationship with our physical selves and our partners that goes deeper that the question of “frequency”, deeper than libido, obligations, fertility, or headaches.
This power inside us that cannot be contained is not MEANT to be contained, it is meant to be directed. It is meant to fuel us and propel us to higher and deeper places both with our spouses, with God, AND with ourselves. If we are single, the concept of continence needs to be pondered and explored. We must learn to embrace, harness, and direct this energy with us rather than give it all up as an impossible cause. Even as married couples, we are so much more than our passions and we cannot ever learn this until we are willing to set them aside long enough to wrestle with them.
Fasting from Sleep
He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer with God. – Luke 6:12 (NASB)
Ordinarily this type of fasting looks like foregoing some of your precious sleep in order to spend it with God.
Could you not stay and watch even one hour with me? – Matthew 26:40
This, however, is very challenging, obviously. Our body needs sleep as much as it needs water! Those hours of rest at night are sometimes the only rest any of us get, and it is critical that we recognize how very important they are. In fact, it is only in recognizing how important they are that their value as an offering becomes that much greater. It is not wise for anyone to decide to fast from sleep entirely or indefinitely; however, it is possible to do little things in this area to prioritize God over the comfort of your bed.
- Don’t hit snooze, but instead jump out of bed quickly (Try using the 5 Second Rule) and begin your day with prayer
- Set your alarm for 10-30 minutes earlier than you normally wake up so that you can make sure you have time to to begin with prayer.
- Embrace interruptions to your sleep as opportunities to pray (ie. nursing mothers, parents of small children, nightmares or other sudden wakeful moments, etc)
- Plan one night a month (or even once a week) where you spend 1 hour in prayer
If this is still impossible for you, you may want to start even smaller and instead of GIVING UP sleep, your best course of action would be to GET enough sleep in the first place – I talk more about this in my follow-up post to this one.
Fast from Spending Money
You don’t need everything you think you need, not even in the way of groceries. Clean out your pantry. Use the things you’ve been avoiding. Remove Amazon from your homescreen. Get creative. Fix something instead of replacing it. Try the library instead of buying the book. Use that shopping time to do something you know you are supposed to do but you’ve been avoiding. Use it to spend more meaningful time with your kids or your spouse, or to pray (Prayer journaling could be very helpful if you are struggling to spend “SO much time” praying).
Take some of the money you are not spending and give it to a worthy cause, but don’t just give it to the first people you think of, do some research and ask God what He would have you do with some of the $$ you aren’t spending.
Fast from Stuff
Yes. Declutter. Minimalize. Clean out your garage, your closet or your basement. Declutter your kitchen counter, your yard, your bookshelves, and the things you just keep having to pick up. Take a minimalism class. Donate things. Question the value of your “collections”. Is what you have intentional, practical, and purposeful? Or is it just taking up space?
Do it once, and then do it again in 6 months. Find more.
Yes. Do it.
It’s good for you.
But don’t just do it to do it. Do it to make room for Him. We don’t empty things just to empty them, we empty so that we can be filled. You will be surprised to notice how much your exterior space reflects the interior of your heart.
Fast from Bad Habits
…by replacing them with good ones.
Yes, maybe you’ve tried this before and failed, but have you done it from the perspective of desiring God and tapping into His strength. Maybe you should try again.
How to Decide What to Do?
If none of the above “fasting” ideas seem to be hitting the nail on the head, try to figure out which sense is your favorite. Yes, the normal physical five senses, sight, smell, taste, touch, or hearing, or the more purely emotional ones, such as social, or mental. Which of them is your refuge, your solace, your comfort… the thing you run to besides God when you need God most?
Figure out exactly how that manifests itself in your life and what your triggers are. Then ask God to meet you there.
Are you willing to offer that comfort to Him, even for one moment, that He may comfort you?
Did I miss anything??? How do you decide what to fast from?
If these fasting ideas are still too hard, there is no shame in that! You might just not “be there” yet. It all takes time and practice. Maybe you need to begin with the post on: What to DO when Giving up things is too Hard.
- ParticularlyCALLED – Fasting Series
- Why Fast? 5 Surprising Reasons to Embrace Spiritual Fasting
- How to Practice Spiritual Fasting in a Sustainable Way