By Brianna Hines
I’m not a skinny girl. I never have been. Ever since I was young, I can remember being concerned about my weight. I never actually tipped into the overweight category until after having my first baby, but I was always aware that my body didn’t look as good in a swimsuit as those of my friends. I was always the kid that wore a t-shirt and shorts over my bathing suit, not because I am just that modest, but because I was embarrassed of my stomach and thighs.
When I went off to college I learned about nutrition and began exercising regularly. I could count every calorie of my catered cafeteria food and had quite a bit of extra time to exercise. By my sophomore year, with my wedding on the way, I began steadily losing weight. My mom was sewing my wedding dress, while I was away at school, and every few weeks I would come home for a fitting. Each time, to my amazement, and her horror, I had shrunk yet another dress size, and she had to take my dress in again and again and again! On my wedding day, I felt like a million bucks, and my mom was relieved that she didn’t have to touch that dress ever again! My weight at the time was finally a source of great pride for me.
However, a lot of life has happened since then. Since my wedding day, I have birthed 4 children, moved 13 times, to 5 different cities, supported my husband through 8 different jobs and 7 years of grad school, lost 4 family members, sold 2 houses, and through all of the joy, stress, change, and grief, gained over 80 pounds to show for it. If I were to calculate how many pounds I have lost and regained through fad diets as well, that number would probably double. Each time I look at my wedding photos now, it is really hard not to see it as a reminder of how far I have fallen physically since that beautiful day. My weight is now a source of shame for me.
It happened slowly, almost imperceptibly, as through all of those life changes, good and bad, I used food as a reward or as a balm. With each little plus sign on my pregnancy test, “eating for two” became an excuse for me to take a break from self-discipline, and I gained 60 pounds with my first pregnancy and 40 with my second without having lost even half of it from the first. With each move it took quite a while for me to begin workout routines and by the time I did, we would just move again. I signed up for a few half-marathons hoping it would be enough to scare me into regular exercise and dieting, but I just ended up running in a race I had no business being in. With each change, each challenge, I tried to will myself to find the motivation to change, but nothing would stick. I would always end up on the scale heavier than the year before and in the fridge eating my stresses away.
I must ashamedly admit that food, not the Lord, has been my main source of security and comfort for nearly my entire life. Food is an idol for me. I may not bow down to a golden calf, but I spend a concerning amount of time bending down to raid the fridge or lifting my hands high to search the snack cabinet for my next fix.
Now, why am I telling you all this? Because the spiritual discipline we will be discussing and practicing this winter is fasting. Fasting is a tool that God has been using over the last couple years in my life to break the chains of slavery to my stomach.
Now I want to be very clear: Biblical fasting is NOT the same as intermittent fasting or dieting. Biblical fasting has nothing to do with losing weight, but everything to do with denying our flesh so that we can be obedient to our heavenly Father. I believe biblical fasting is God’s number one weapon to battle the deadly sins of gluttony and overindulgence. It teaches us the spiritual fruit of self-control and breaks the chains of bondage to the things in our lives we develop addictions to, like me and food. It teaches us that we don’t really need those things we think we can’t live without. Fasting shows us that God is big enough to fill that gap, that God can truly satisfy in a way that other things never can.
We can so easily become slaves to these physical bodies of ours. They scream to be satisfied, be that with food or comfort or distraction. Fasting is the regular practice of denying our bodies what they so desperately crave and filling them with God instead. It is the practice of saying “no” to what we want so that we can practice dependence on God for the strength to do what He wants instead.
Fasting doesn’t always have to involve food. I can think of several people right now that are unable to fast meals due to health conditions. These people have other things that they can fast from that will challenge their dependence on God. However, I have found that there are few less demanding tempters than our stomachs. Just push lunch back an hour on a road trip with kids and you will marvel at the unmatched power of the human stomach to create pure pandemonium. I think there is a reason why the majority of examples of fasting in the Bible involve food. Nevertheless, denying ourselves ANY pleasure, be that eating, spending, watching, or even just sitting on the couch will reveal the selfishness hidden not too far under the surface of our hearts and begin to build in us muscles of endurance to pick up our cross and do the hard things Jesus asks us to, one cookie, dollar, episode, or workout at a time.
So, for the next couple of weeks as we explore what fasting is and how we as Jesus followers can practice this spiritual discipline, I hope it will begin to break the chains of bondage we have to hidden idols in our lives, just as it has begun to do with my idol of food for comfort. I pray that as a community we can come together and support each other in building our spiritual endurance muscles as we learn to say “no” to certain things in our lives, and I expect that I won’t be the only one surprised at how relevant and life-changing the ancient practice of fasting can truly be. This not-so-skinny girl is learning that her Heavenly Father, and not food or any other thing, should be the One dictating how to live her life. Will you join me on the journey?