By Brianna Hines
On my fifth grade report card, my teacher wrote some lovely comments about me being a good student, but he also expressed some serious concern with how “boy-crazy” I was. He was right to be concerned. I was more than boy-crazy. I was boy-obsessed! That fifth grade year I kissed a boy for the first time, and not just because it was part of a game we were playing. I kissed that boy because he was my “boyfriend,” and I wanted to kiss him!
The Lord had a heck of a time answering the prayers of my mother and grandmothers to protect my purity through middle and high school. I bet He had His angels working overtime to keep me from doing something naive and stupid. Being liked by boys made me feel good, and I knew how to make them like me. I knew how to do all the things I watched girls do in movies. I could flirt, and be coy, give them lots of attention, stroke their ego, and wear clothes that balanced precariously between parentally acceptable and intentionally attractive. I had a knack for it, and it became, I am ashamed to admit, a kind of game. I was having fun, and it was not only unkind to all those poor boys but also dangerous for my purity. I put myself in a lot of situations that I would never want my daughter in. It was God’s grace alone that kept me from disaster.
After high school, I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to fast dating for an entire year. I was a pretty immature Christian, but even I could tell that all my dependence on guys for my self-worth and sick fun was not God’s best for me. So I took the plunge. It was easy at first because I went to a private Christian university, where the girl to guy ratio was about 4:1. Any male that was even somewhat functional had a flock of girls following him around campus.
However, even though it was easy turning down practically nonexistent dates, I had to fast from the desire for a dating relationship in the first place. When I talked with a guy sitting next to me in class, I couldn’t flirt. Things had to stay purely platonic, and I found that I didn’t actually know how to do that. It was pathetic! I had been boy-crazy for so long that I actually didn’t know how to be boy-normal. God had a lot to teach me.
It was fascinating to see the progression of my journal entries that year. They began with excitement and passion about the challenge, which quickly changed to mourning for what I was missing. I got depressed and resentful of all those other girls getting dates. Eventually, when I stopped pouting about how hard fasting was for me, I started grieving what I had done to all those poor boys. I wrote letters to some of them, apologizing for my insensitivity as God showed me what it must have been like for them. I released past hurts that I had been burying with all my flirting. I even made a little fire and burned momentos from each of my dating relationships that I had kept, going all the way back to the fifth grade. God and I went deep.
When I had released all of the things I had unknowingly been holding on to all those years, I found a new place in my heart opening up for my love of the Lord. My prayers were more personal, my worship more passionate, my curiosity for the Word growing, and my desire to date taking second place to my desire to love the Lord with all my heart, mind, and soul. I felt like a new creation. Honestly. I cherish the memories of that year.
Sometimes God wants us to fast something other than food. He longs to fill that sacred spot of first allegiance in our hearts, but often, we have stuffed other things in His place. I stuffed my heart up with boys, thinking that finding the right one would finally make me feel happy and whole. At different times in my life I have stuffed food in that place, or children, my husband, or even my phone. Each time I subconsciously thought these things would make me happy and whole, but they all fell short. It is God’s grace that He asks us to fast from things we think we can’t live without. It is His ever-pursuing grace that gently clears out the debris clogging our worship arteries. Fasting is grace.
So often we can think of it as punishment, just like I did when I wasn’t going on dates. But as we continue in the process, what once felt like punishment will begin to feel like privilege. That is why fasting is not meant to be a one-off experience. Jesus assumes in Matthew 6 that we will fast, more than once. It could be argued that He assumes we will fast regularly, just as we regularly tithe and pray. If we stick with the process of fasting, we will experience a progression of feelings from excitement, to frustration, to grieving, to repentance, to worship, to acceptance, to joy and everywhere in between. God’s sanctification of us cannot be rushed. Just like we shouldn’t give up on praying because it was super awkward the first time we tried it, so we shouldn’t give up so easily on fasting. There is a learning curve to each of the spiritual disciplines that is worth hanging in there for.
Even if we can’t or choose not to fast from food, it won’t take long to think of something in our lives that we could stand to be a little less attached to. God can teach us the lessons of fasting just as easily with something like television, social media, or spending as He can with food. So maybe take a quick minute to ask God to reveal what He would like you to fast this month, but watch out, because He might just pick something you think you can’t live without.