If you’re anything like me, you probably feel overwhelmed by all the changes you’d like to see in your life—especially around the New Year, when resolutions are the “thing” to do.
My husband and I already know what we need to do to improve—our fitness level, availability to each other and friends, amount of quality time with God. But sometimes, the more we resolve to change, our list of goals ends up abandoned a few weeks after January 1.
That’s why I’ve decided to take an opposite approach to making positive changes to my mental, spiritual, and physical health. No 52-weeks-a-year-or-bust self-improvement plan for me! Instead of adding more to my life, I’m seeing what I can delete for a manageable, unintimidating span of time—a week. I suspect what I gain from these quick “fasts” will benefit both me and my marriage.
1. Fast from Worry
My husband’s always hopping on an airplane, traveling cross-country for business. I worry about his safety all the time.
Our eldest daughter and son-in-law are missionaries who regularly lead short-term missions trips overseas. I recently learned they’re discussing a trip next spring to a Christian-unfriendly part of the world with our two grandchildren (the youngest is now six months) Does this doting grandma worry? You bet.
The truth is, I can find myself worrying about my family’s health, safety, and well-being all the time. But worry doesn’t please God and wreaks havoc on my emotional state. And its impact on my mood spills over into my marriage. So I hit on the idea of “fasting” from worry—no easy feat when you’re a self-proclaimed “worry wart.” What even one week of worry-free living could feel like? I decided to give it a try.
Each time worries started swallowing up my thought life, I forced myself to focus on something concrete and pleasant—cardinals perched on the feeder, the winter sunset tinting the sky a frigid crimson—to blot out my preoccupation with “what ifs.” Or I repeated a favorite Scripture such as Psalm 94:19 (TLB): “Lord, when doubts fill my mind, when my heart is in turmoil, quiet me and give me renewed hope and cheer.” I “take captive” every negative thought “to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
If someone told me to “just stop worrying,” I’d say impossible. But then I tried it for a week—with the help of God’s Spirit and his Word—and while I didn’t become perfectly peaceful, for those seven days I felt more optimistic than usual. And I found it took stress off my husband, who is too frequently on the listening end of my litany of concerns.
This is one fast I’ve repeated when my fretful nature kicks into overdrive. So try fasting from worry for a week–it may transform your life!
2. Fast from HGTV or Pintrest
My husband and I have lived in our home for 27 years, so we’ve reached that point where our house could use a few “updates,” to put it kindly. A sleeker, more modern bathroom. New kitchen cabinets to replace the old oak ones. Granite in the powder room. You know, that kind of thing.
Home decor is both my hobby and my weakness. I can pore over Pinterest for the latest ideas for decorating, check out the DYI posts on Young.House.Love, watch endless episodes of Love It or List It, or immerse myself for hours on the website Houzz, looking for just the right tile or countertop for my bathroom remodel.
But there’s a little problem with these fun and visually stimulating resources. When I steep myself in them, I discover they don’t feed my soul even when they fire up my mind. I become so focused on what I want (the newest, the shiniest, the most stylish!), I become discontent with what I already have. Too much eyeballing designer-price-tagged room redos, and my grateful heart turns into a greedy one.
I’ve learned I’m happier when I stop consuming a steady diet of home improvement programming and surfing. Taking even a one-week break from the things that can preoccupy me helps me break free from their hold.
Perhaps it’s The Food Network for you, or ESPN or motorcycle magazines for your husband (like mine). Good things, fun things, can easily become idols before we even realize it. So whatever it may be, begin the process of loosening the grip this one thing may have on you.
3. Fast from the News Media
No, I’m not talking about abstaining from all television, newspapers, blogs, or web-based news sources entirely for a week—or from streaming a Netflix video that lifts your spirits and brings your family together, especially during the holidays.
What I am suggesting is a fast from all the depressing news floating out there. Bad news fairly shouts at us all the time: Grim financial outlooks, dropped healthcare coverage, children killing children, corruption and crime on every level. In today’s world, it feels as though nobody’s honest, nobody’s trustworthy, and nobody’s sure we’re going to survive into the next century!
Real life can be hard, scary, tragic. But it’s also filled with God’s presence and grace, and peopled with many kind and self-sacrificing folk. Life isn’t all dangerous, dire, bleak, or brimming with imminent disaster. Yet when on a steady diet of the news media, you can often feel as though it is.
My husband and I used to turn on the cable news shows after dinner and watch the political pundits in their screaming matches over the state of the nation (and it was never good). What a depressing way to cap off an already-stressful work day! Jangled nerves didn’t allow us to unwind and relax.
Now we’ve replaced that habit with watching one or two episodes of DVR’d Seinfeld reruns most weekday nights. Sure, we’ve watched this show a thousand times and know all the punch lines, but the sitcom silliness still makes us laugh.
The benefits of fasting even one week from the news media overconsumption are twofold. You can spend time bonding with each other by doing something else you both enjoy, and you can end the day with happy thoughts instead of divisive political rhetoric.
So this year, take a break from doom-and-gloom for just seven days—you’ll start looking up!
4. Fast from Facebook (and iPads and Smart Phones and . . . )
I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. Do I really need to check the latest post from one of my 500 closest friends? Do I really need to update my status by talking about my latest mood or “deep” thought? I mean, who really cares?
I often wonder what a truly ‘unplugged life” would be like. I love my iPad, iPhone, and Kindle—and spend a lot of time tethered to them. But how does all the technology we invite into our lives truly affect us? I pointed out to my husband the following irony: For years, we’ve resisted the temptation to bring a television into our bedroom, yet now we often lie in bed watching Netflix or YouTube videos on our respective devices before we zone out for the night. We check our personal email on our phones first thing in the morning (not that there’s anything so important it can’t wait an hour . . . or two . . . or five), and then so many times after that, I lose count.
I’ve taken intermittent fasts from Facebook and have discovered—to my surprise–once I’m off it, I don’t miss it. I instead spend my time living my true, real life—not the one created from random posts and self-indulgent updates and carefully selected “selfies.”
Could the same be true if I unplugged myself from my multiple devices? I’m going to find out. I’ve decided to fast for a week from surfing on my iPad at night in bed, opting instead to concentrate on reading a genuine print book or cuddling with my husband.
Technology, for all its simulated “connectivity,” often keeps us from truly connecting face-to-face in real time. Dare to fast from Facebook and from constantly checking email or surfing the web for one week, and you may discover you like it! Powering off can provide you with more time to cultivate the relationships that matter most.
5. Fast from COMPARISONS
When I was newly married, I remember being upset that my husband didn’t hold my hand in public like the husband of one of our couple friends with whom we’d gone out to dinner. Boy, Ted must really love Janet. He’s not shy about showing it either, I stewed.
To my shock, about three weeks after our outing with this PDA couple, we learned they’d filed for divorce. I couldn’t believe it! They’d seemed so outwardly affectionate with each other!
This was a big lesson is the danger of comparing my marriage to someone else’s. My husband and I have been married now for almost 37 years—lack of hand holding not withstanding. I’ve learned that as tempting as it is to compare how your husband (or your children, or your job, or your ministry opportunities, or your house—you get the idea) “measures up” to someone else, comparison never leads to positive change; it ends up tearing down rather than building up.
When I feel that little nudge to compare a perceived shortcoming in my spouse with what seems like a strength in another, I nip it in the bud. I purposefully abstain from “going there,” and instead intentionally focus on the strengths, gifts, and committed love my husband brings to our marriage.
So there you have it—five short-term fasts that just may jumpstart change in your life. Eliminating something for a week is less intimidating than vowing a year-long program of “will dos” that too often end up as “never dids.” Try my approach of deleting and you’ll discover what you can be gaining for a healthier, more positive you.
Copyright 2013 by Jane Johnson Struck. Portions of this article first appeared in Christianity Today International/Today’s Christian Woman magazine.