Spiritual Disciplines for Kids: Fasting

Spiritual Disciplines for Kids: Fasting

Continuing our discussion from yesterday:

How do I teach the child I am discipling about fasting?

How do I include them in an age-appropriate way?

The Purpose  of Fasting
John Wesley said of fasting “first, let it be done unto the Lord with our eye singly fixed on Him. Let our intention herein be this and this alone, to glorify our Father which is in heaven…”  When we fast we deny ourselves for the purpose of focusing more intently on God. Fasting also strips away layers of ordinary to reveal who and what is truly the object of our worship.  Richard Foster writes:

“More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface. If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately. David said, “I humbled my soul with fasting.” (Psalm 69:10). Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear—if they are within us, they will surface during fasting. At first we will rationalize that our anger is due to our hunger; then we know that we are angry because the spirit of anger is within us. We can rejoice in this knowledge because we know that healing is available through the power of Christ.”
(Celebration of Discipline)

Fasting reminds us that our source and our sustenance is found truly in God and God alone.

Breaking it down for a child
Foster and Wesley may be a bit much for a 6 year old, but kids can certainly understand taking away or turning something off to focus on something else more fully.  For example, many times children are asked to turn off the TV/PSP/Game system so that they can focus more fully on their homework, their family eating dinner, etc.  Talk with your child about fasting in terms of “turning off” something in their lives (food, electronics, a favorite toy, etc.) in order to “turn on” our full attention to God.

Model the discipline
Talk about how you are fasting and why you are fasting.  Let your child watch you walk with the Lord.  Children are observers and imitators, for better or worse, let them see you engage in discipleship.
Soon after Cadence was born, I remember lamenting to my small group that I felt like I was unable to connect in the same way with the Lord because she was always with me. My pastor responded with a convicting, “who says you have to be alone to experience God?”   
Some mornings, I am blessed with times of silence and solitude before anyone else is awake.  Other mornings, Cadence curls up and reads Scripture along with me.  Still other mornings are full of rousing renditions of silly songs pouring from the computer speakers, bowls of cereal and sticky fingers and an 18 month old vying for a sip of my coffee.  I try to find moments to pray and reflect on Scripture even then.
Selfishly, I would still love to have my hour of time alone with the Lord, like when I was in college.  But letting my daughter see my discipleship is an integral part of her own.

Give Context
Help your child see themselves as part of a bigger story, a bigger community of people walking with God and living the way of Jesus.
From Scripture, talk about our brothers and sisters in the faith who fasted: Nehemiah, Esther, Daniel, David, John the Baptist, the believers in the early Church as recorded in Acts.  Talk about the ways we are to fast, the reasons we are to fast and how to absolutely not fast as discussed in Isaiah 58, Jeremiah 36 and Matthew 6.
From Church history, talk about St. Francis and Clare of Assisi who took vows of poverty and lived simply, denying themselves of the pleasures and comforts of their wealthy roots.
As you explore these stories from Scripture and Church history, help your child see themselves as part of this ongoing story of how God is redeeming the world – putting all the broken pieces back together.  We are a part of this process and this story.

Give your child a chance to respond
As you model, talk about and give context for fasting, give your child a opportunity to respond.
“I am fasting from food on Wednesday, would you like to ‘turn off’ something so we can ‘turn on’ to God together?”

If they choose to engage, help them decide the type of fast by listening to their input and offering suggestions as well.
Some ideas for fasting may be:

  • TV or just a favorite show
  • Electronics, Ipods/Ipads, gaming systems
  • Dessert or sugar
  • A favorite food
  • Soda or juice, drink only water
  • A favorite toy or book

If your child is older they may choose to engage in fasting a whole meal with you.  Let them have voice in this process. Again, as I said yesterday, honor the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

Encourage and engage but don’t formulate

If your child chooses to participate in a fast with you, encourage them throughout their period of denial.  Read Scripture together – some of the stories above would be a great place to start!  Choose things and people to pray for together.  This week, our church is focusing on prayers of surrender, giving ourselves and our church over to God.
Resist the urge to give your child a checklist or a formula to follow.  Create a space for your child to explore the discipline and God’s presence, let them glean truth from it.  Trust God to reveal Godself to your child, because surely God desires for our children to know God more than we ever could.

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