Monday, December 29, 2014

New Year's Resolutions: 12 Months of Fasting

     Every year, towards the end of December, it has become a tradition to make a new 'resolution' for the new year.  Some common goals might be to lose weight, quit a bad habit, start new good habits, or fast from something.  But, as often happens with large goals like these, it can be easy to lose focus and motivation by making excuses and trying to conquer the world on your own.  Here are some stats that prove this reality.

     "A 2007 study by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol involving 3,000 people showed that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions fail, despite the fact that 52% of the study's participants were confident of success at the beginning. Men achieved their goal 22% more often when they engaged in goal setting, (a system where small measurable goals are being set; such as, a pound a week, instead of saying "lose weight"), while women succeeded 10% more when they made their goals public and got support from their friends."
     Well then what is the point of making of resolution if it never sticks?  Fortunately, not all hope is lost.
     In early January of 2014, a fellow blogger friend and I came up with a plan for the year called 12 Months of Fasting.  12 Months of fasting?! Wouldn't that be impossible to go without food for a year?  Actually though, in the history of fasting, food is only one way to fast.  Often times the purpose of fasting is to give up something that might be distracting from spending time with God or praying about an important decision.  Or sometimes the practice of denying self is a way to identify with others less fortunate or the persecuted church. We decided that there were certain things we could do without, but knew that we would need to fast in shorter spurts and with the support of friends.  We started by outlining a different fast for each month of the year, although some of these changed later on.  Then we invited others to join in by talking up our fasts to our friends and family, and we also created a Facebook group message where we could check-up on each other's progress.
     Here is the list:

     12 Months of Fasting:

January:  No Clothes - no buying clothes

February:  Media Fast - a fast from almost all media, especially social media (excluding use for school and necessary communication such as once-a-day emailing)

March:  No Hair - no using heat products such as a curling iron or spending too much time doing your hair

April: No Jewelry / Nail Polish - just another way to spend less time primping

May: No Sweets - basically no dessert, candy, etc. with sugar.  Some sugar free desserts were OK.  (we made an exception for special occasions, but be careful not to make every day a special occasion!)

June:  No Pop - (some of us also added 'no buying clothes' to this fast, since it was an 'easier' one to begin with)

July:  No Eating Out - (make your own rule for this one.  For example, if you're friends are going out to eat, will you make an exception of some kind?)

August:  No Makeup - This may be another one of those 'tough ones', but usually those are the most rewarding.

September:  No Junk Food / No Media - This time, some of us chose one fast while some chose the other, depending on what they felt like they needed the most.

October:  No Sweets - We repeated this fast, but this time we added a positive emphasis: every time we were tempted to eat sweets, we would pray about something for for someone.

November:  Real Fast - We actually fasted from food this time, but picked only one day out of each week, fasting until dinner time.

December:  Wild Card -  This one is up to you!  You can repeat a fast you already did or try something different.

     Does this list sound a bit daunting?  Don't worry--it's actually a lot easier than it sounds.  If these 12 Months of Fasting sound like a resolution you might want to try, keep reading because I will list the reasons why this works and give some tips as to how to accomplish it.

     Why 12 Months of Fasting works:

  1. SHORT-TERM.  The end goal is easier to see, so throughout each fast, there is more motivation.
  2. FLEXIBILITY.  In a standard New Year's resolution, you may come up with new goals or a different fast, but don't feel right changing the resolution you made at the beginning of the year.  But if you choose a different fast each month, you can change or continue each fast, depending on your situation.
  3. ACCOUNTABILITY.  One of the purposes of this fast is that others can join in at any point, or only join certain fasts along the way.  Either way, there ends up being more accountability and it becomes something fun to challenge yourselves in different ways together.

HOW to get the most out of 12 Months of Fasting:

  1. PRAY.  The first step is to pray about your fasts.  Not every fast has to be equally hard or necessary, but it is important to have a purpose to your fasting.  Also sometimes in prayer, God will reveal a distraction or weakness in yourself that you couldn't have seen on your own.
  2. TALK TO OTHERS.  This is helpful both before, during and after each fast.  After you have prayed about your fasts, you may still need a few ideas.  This is where the 'others' comes in.  Before: Ask your friends what fasts they might like to do, and together you should be able to come up with a rough outline of a fast for each month.  During:  As as many people who are willing to join in fasting with you and to keep each other accountable.  I noticed that the media and no sweets fasts were the most effective partly because a lot of people participated.  After: This part may seem important, but it is equally helpful.  After each fast, a few of us would evaluate how well we stuck to the fast, what we learned, and what we might want to do better next time.  During this debriefing process, you may want to take a look at the rest of your list and make a few changes.
  3. THINK POSITIVE.  I don't mean to simply 'think positive thoughts' and all will be well.  Fasting is meant to be challenging.  So instead of complaining about not being able to check Twitter every day, try praying for something or someone each time you are tempted to Instagram your fast food.  In July, my friend Olivia discovered a list of things to pray for, each day of the month.  Here is the printable for 31 days of prayer.
  4. SET THE RULES.  You will notice in the list above, that we made a few exceptions for some of the fasts.  For example, with the media fast we made an exception in the case of homework on the computer and necessary communication.  When you set boundaries like these in the beginning, you won't feel guilty when 'breaking' the fast necessarily later on.  Also, some fasts may be harder than others (for example, I underlined the fasts in the list above that were the most difficult).  That is OK.  Often times the most challenging fasts were the most rewarding.
  5. REMEMBER.  Once you give in to temptation to sneak that delicious brownie (that has been begging to be eaten for two days now), it will be much easier to give in the second time.  Stay motivated.  The more people involved, the more effective your fast will be.  Encourage one another by sharing scriptures or praying for each other.  Pray continually.

     I hope that these ideas have been helpful for you, and possibly encouraged you in your own personal New Year's resolutions for the coming year!  To encourage you in the quest to deny self this next year, here is one of my favorite Bible verses.

"For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
Matthew 10:39

Happy New Year!!

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