Clarksville, TN – This past spring, I spent a weekend in Paducah with my sister that involved a whole lot of food, shopping, and yakkity-yak. I also spent a couple of hours doing what little sisters do to big sisters: verbally unloading all my internal garbage as she patiently listened, urged me to continue, and handed me tissues.
On my way home from Paducah, it hit me that I’d used the words “afraid” or “anxious” or “worried” dozens of times as I’d told my sister about the issues that plagued me. I was appalled to realize that fear was a daily part of my life. I was a daughter of God but being smothered by fear. So the Lord and I had a talk about it, and He suggested a seven-day fast . . . but not your typical fast.We all know that biblical fasting means giving up food. Media fasts—forgoing computers, TV, and the like—are popular in the church these days, too. But this time, the Lord was calling me to a fear fast. He was challenging me to abstain from every sort of fear for seven full days.
Wait a minute, you might say, fasting means sacrificing something you enjoy, something you can barely stand to live without from day to day. Who feels that way about fear?
Ok, so I didn’t exactly enjoy fear. Anxiety doesn’t feel good the way that biting into a cheeseburger feels good, yet I didn’t know how to live without it for even a day. How would I maintain control over my circumstances if I didn’t worry about them? Surely only potheads and Buddhist monks consistently abided by the “everything-will-be-fine” mentality.
Intellectually, I understood that the opposite of fear is faith, but I’d never been able to wholly apply that truth. Feeling nauseous while balancing the checkbook or lying awake at two in the morning wondering if I was going to meet a deadline was a normal part of life for me. Fear doesn’t feel good, but it can become a person’s most familiar and constant companion.
The fear fast changed my life. As you might guess, seven days turned into twenty-one, which turned into forty, which turned into forever because it’s not like God is ever going to say, “Okay, enough of that, you’re free to fret and agonize again.” Fasting fear has become a lifestyle.
I confess that at first I was nervous I’d discover my brain was a vacuum once the fear was gone. Were there any thoughts in there besides anxious ones? And what if I failed? Everyone who has regularly fasted food has experienced the major fail, when you find yourself at 3:00am at Dairy Queen, stuffing hot, greasy fries into your face.
In the past, I’d tried to push negative thoughts away and rein in my fear-filled imagination while embracing faith (2 Cor. 10:5), and I’d made some progress but couldn’t quite get to the point of freedom. However, this fasting thing put a whole new spin on things: fasting leaves me no choice and puts God in the driver’s seat.
Here’s a journal entry from the first week:
Last night, when the anxiety pulled at me, I had no choice but to push it away. Any other night, I would have engaged my mind, allowing the panic to swallow me and turn nighttime into torment—after all, it’s second nature—but this time I adjusted my blankets, and then I fell back to sleep. And in the morning, I realized that it’s been normal to wake up to an immediate barrage of panic, before my day has even begun. I also grasped that fear has been a key motivator: I’ve been planning my schedule according to how I might best alleviate guilt and anxiety.
Now, months after the fast began, I can honestly say that fear is no longer the ball and chain it once was, but also that this victory has nothing to do with willpower or grand spirituality. It’s the result of fear being off limits. When I crave its false comfort, I don’t get to indulge, and it’s as simple as that. I’m shackled by the mandate of God, and this is true freedom.
Is my life now an unending parade of rainbows, baby ducks, and butterflies? No. Fear doesn’t go away after 50 years without a fight. Some days are easier than others, but I’m quicker to extend grace to myself on the bad days and to recognize and celebrate the good days. Just yesterday, I announced to my husband, “I don’t have a single editing job on the horizon and I’m not even hyperventilating!”
Will I still be carefree and full of faith a week from now if I’m still jobless? I hope so . . . but for now, all I have is today. And just for today, I will abstain from fear, and faith will nourish me.
Fill in the blank: My thoughts too often turn to ________________________. What do you need to fast? Anger toward your parents? Intellectual pride? Envy toward your BFF? Self-pity, ungratefulness, or self-condemnation?