I’m posting this in part for families who’d like to fast for Lent. A few believe Protestants shouldn’t; but Matt Chandler offers this perspective–so it’s your call! At any time of year, I feel families can benefit. Here’s why.   -Janel

fasting for families spiritual discipline

Yeah, I bet you were wondering what I was going to write in this one. (I was, too.)

It’s hard enough for adults to get the idea behind fasting, I think. But I like how John Piper phrases it: Fasting is about demonstrating a hunger for God. It’s like saying, God, I want you this much. Remember how man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God? Fasting—much like its sister discipline, simplicity–is like putting down the bag of Cheetos in our lives that mutes our soul’s shouting to be filled. (My refugee students could likely out-fast me any day, simply because they’ve lived life without being constantly satiated.) Kids aren’t likely to understand this easily, so let’s put it this way.

 

What it is

THE KEY: Fasting is a sweet offering to God of choosing against something we really like for a little while, so we can be satisfied by Him rather than all the pleasures in our lives.

God made those pleasures as good gifts! But He never means them to get more important than Him. Fasting helps us step away from them a bit, to spend time thinking of Him and praying more.

We keep it quiet, because fasting isn’t about making us look all spiritual. It’s about our private walk with Him, like a special secret between the two of us.

Marti Garlett and Valerie Hess write in Habits of a Child’s Heart: Raising Your Kids with the Spiritual Disciplines.

In the Discipline of Fasting, we deliberately deny ourselves an otherwise normal function of daily life for the sake of intense spiritual activity. Through fasting, we learn that we truly do not live by bread alone.

….[E]very self-imposed tummy-growl reminds us of why we are fasting and that God wants to fill our emptiness with his presence and grace. [It is a] new form of feasting—fasting from food so that we can better draw near to God…

You see? God’s our true feast. Fastening loosens our hold on stuff from here, and reminds us what really fills us up. I feel it’s related a great deal to simplicity, which I consider a form of fasting.

My thought? I like this discipline to be driven a bit by my kids’ engagement, so that they have some ownership and the hard moments aren’t seen as Mom and God v. Me. See more about that concept here! Spiritual disciplines should ultimately lead to more joy–and if not, we’ve got a problem.

What it isn’t

At the same time, Hess and Garlett stipulate this isn’t…

  • Focusing on the achievement of fasting. It “is a quiet event shared only by two.”* This is a great time to talk with our kids about self-righteousness and serving God privately (this chart may help!). If we quietly think ourselves a better family, say, because we fast, we’re actually worshipping…ourselves (see Colossians 2:20-23). Though our kids’ discipline is something to encourage and praise (!)–ultimately, the goal isn’t our achievement, but Him.
  • To get God to produce something. Though it’s definitely biblical to plead with God for something through fasting, we can’t get into, “I did this—so God should do this for me.” That’s spiritual entitlement.
  • An immediate spiritual high. It’s more like starting an exercise program, say Hess and Garlett, starting an exercise program.
  • For kids who have food issues, say, those who struggle with food hoarding, tendencies toward eating disorders, etc.—it’s my opinion this discipline should be saved for a different season in life, where their spirituality won’t be unnecessarily tangled in those complexities.
Practical ideas? (Your kids might just surprise you!)
  1. Talk with your kids collectively about one thing they could give up for a period of time they decide: Meat. Social media. TV. Buying something for self. Complaining. You can push them a bit. The idea is, like David, to not offer God sacrifices that cost us nothing—and still, to be a cheerful giver who doesn’t give out of obligation. One of my kids wanted to fast from sugar; one thought of giving up leisure computer time. I want my kids to sense what’s meaningful in their own relationship with God.
  2. Because lack of food can interfere with school, attention, and behavior, my personal choice is to not expect this of kids during school days—and to ease in with fasting from a particular food. (Summer or a weekend might work better for longer fasts.) Or perhaps you could decide together to fast from the evening meal, but eat a full breakfast before school. As with service, I’m on the lookout for the difference between simple complaining from my kids and actual resentment, which I don’t want surrounding these disciplines.
  3. You can fast from a behavior, too. What behavior might be standing in the way of your relationship and a fuller, more radical obedience to God?
  4. Hess and Garlett suggest younger kids can give up refined sugar one day a week: “On Wednesdays we don’t eat cookies.” God, they explain, becomes our dessert that night; you might sing songs at the end of dinner. Families can then work up to a span of several days or even weeks.
  5. Hess and Garlett also suggest going vegetarian one night, or fasting from snacks one day a week or all weekend.
  6. Consider weaning your house off caffeine. First Peter reminds “a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him”—and you might like life untethered from Must. Have. Coffee. (Green tea or vitamin B gummies may provide more non-addictive energy boosts on sleepy days.)
  7. Simplicity can be a form of fasting. You could have bread and water for one meal, or simply-seasoned vegetables, or juice. Blogger Kristen Welch’s family chooses beans and rice on a set night of the week to eliminate chaos, remember the poor (and presumably pray for them), and choose less. Here’s my closest Ugandan friend Olivia’s smash-hit recipe for our family:africa
    OLIVIA’S “MORE PLEASE” (GLUTEN-FREE) AFRICAN BEANS AND RICE

    In a saucepan, fry in a generous amount of oil

    1 bell pepper, chopped

    1-3 carrots (Olivia says, “You use what you have!”)

    1 large onion, chopped

    1 1/2 c. tomato, chopped

    3-4 cloves garlic, minced

    Add

    4 c. pink or red beans (not kidney; we cook ours in a crockpot overnight and freeze in batches)

    4 tsp. curry powder OR chili powder; Olivia likes to add 1 tsp. coriander, 1 tsp. turmeric, and 1 tsp. cumin)

    Salt and pepper to taste

    1-2 c. Water (I like chicken broth), to your preferred consistency

    Simmer until soft. Serve over your rice, and garnish with avocado if desired.

  8. Add reminders to help your kids keep their commitments to God: A notecard on the fridge or TV, perhaps (“I’m so proud of you. Keep it up!”); a text at lunchtime (“Just a ‘you can do it’ reminder that there are six hours left in our meat fast. Keep going! Almost there! [insert Bible verse] Proud of you choosing this for God.”)

 

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