The following blog was written by Amy Etheridge — wife of Aaron (our Cannery Campus Pastor) and mom to three kids: Elijah, Toren, and Dahlia — and they are in the process of adopting a baby girl! We hope this blog can be an inspiration and provide some practical tips for all the young parents in our church who are trying to figure out what fasting can look like with small children!
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When you have small children in your home and under foot, fasting can be very difficult and sometimes discouraging. The responsibility of parenting leaves you with the tasks of planning, shopping for, preparing, serving and cleaning up three meals a day for your children, EVEN while fasting.
So this is a list of practical ideas to help you think through how you can still participate in a fast during this season in life. Dave wrote out an ebook that is very helpful — and if you have not already read or listened to it, I highly recommend it. Think of this as an expandsion to his ebook, specifically in the area of fasting with kids. My heart’s desire is to serve you and encourage you as you read this. And my hope is that you will be more open to consider fasting after reading it!
Before you continue, read through Part 3 in the ebook, beginning on page 37. You will find a list of 4 different ways to fast.
1. Major Fast
2. Minor Fast
3. Partial Fast
4. Soul Fast
Decide what works best for you and your family for how long you fast and what you will fast from. I recommend a “Partial” or “Soul Fast” for parents with young children. Especially if you are a pregnant or nursing mother. No matter what you decide, you will need to simplify meals, planning, prep and clean up to make the most of your fasting season.
SIMPLIFYING MEALS & SNACKS
Think through your weekly meals and schedule ahead of time. This will free up a lot of mental space for you throughout your fast. Then, SIMPLIFY!!! I recommend removing unnecessary food out of your diets and paring down to only food that your family needs to grow and thrive.
Plan out and list what you will make for three meals and two snacks per day. Then think of simple meals that are super easy for you to prepare and have little to no clean up. If you think about how many hours a day you spend feeding, snacking and preparing desserts it takes up a majority of your daylight hours. While these things are meaningful and important, I am simply recommending changing things up to make the most out of your fasting time. If you think through and plan ahead it will help tremendously!
IDEAS OF WHAT TO CUT OUT DURING YOUR FAST
(You may need to box these things up during the fast and hide them in the attic or a closet, because if your kids see them...they will ask you about them…all day long...)
- Sodas and Special Drinks (Gatorade, Lemonade, etc.)
- Candy and Treats
- Using Food as Behavior Rewards
Think about the type of basic meals you eat when you are camping or hiking. Whatever you do...simplify!!!
If your family likes leftovers. Spend some time making up a big batch of oatmeal, pancakes, and or waffles. Then each morning you can easily reheat(or not) and serve to your children. You can also cut up fruit and have it in containers in the refrigerator. Then you won’t have to cut up and clean up these things throughout the week.
If possible choose the same lunches several days in a row. If you can chop vegetables, slice cheese, make quesadillas, make some simple hummus all on one day, then you can feed that to your children each day for lunch. Store it all in containers in the fridge. Some of these things can also be purchased cut up or prepared for you if that makes it easier for you.
This is often the most difficult meal for families. Kids are tired, impatient and hungry. Parents are rushing home and often rushing out the door for evening plans. Think through the needs of your family during this season of fasting. Are there commitments that you need to give up for this short season? Do you need to call on other friends, neighbors and family for help? Is there someone who could come over for an hour to sit at the table with your children while they eat so that you can sit in your bedroom to pray, read scripture, worship or journal?
Rice and beans or rice and stir fried veggies are two really easy meals that have virtually no clean up. You can make large batches to eat for a few dinners in a row. Bagged frozen vegetables are very easy to prepare with little to clean up. There’s also nothing wrong with serving your kids yogurt cups, sliced fruit and healthy popcorn for dinner so that you have no dishes to wash after they eat.
WHAT TO DO WHILE PREPARING MEALS IN THE KITCHEN
LISTEN TO SCRIPTURE
Listening to scripture can help to redirect your mind to focus on the “spiritual" even while wrapped up in the “physical” — the two do not have to be mutually exclusive. You can experience the nearness of God even in the most ordinary & mundane tasks of everyday life. You can connect a speaker to your phone and put it on the kitchen counter and listen to scripture that way. If your children are too loud, put one ear bud from your headphones in your ear while you work. When you are doing mundane chores, like food prep and clean up, it helps to listen to the same book or chapter over and over and over. This gives you the opportunity to meditate on it. If you listen to the same scripture you may put it into memory and meditate on it throughout the day which is a huge blessing that will serve you well.
I like to ponder on how monks and missionaries have lived for hundreds of years as they work on simple and mundane chores in monasteries and churches worldwide. When I practice this discipline, I think about the lives and legacies of people like Brother Lawrence, St. Patrick and Mother Teresa. This gets easier and easier the more you practice it, but can be very hard at first. So don’t give up if you don’t experience the “spiritual” when you’re folding laundry or doing dishes…God is nearer than you think!
LISTEN TO WORSHIP MUSIC
Pick a few songs that you feel like are truly outward reflections of your heart. Then you can sing the words and turn them into a prayer to God. This way you are taking care of meals for your children physically, but inside/spiritually you are praying to God. You can play the same song over and over to pray and meditate as you sing.
Put on a kids worship play list or CD that is appropriate for your children’s age level. Give your children instruments or make them out of household items and blast the music. Let your children sing and march and dance to the music while you work. Let your mind go as you prep/cook/clean up and ask God to give you a childlike faith as you do so. Don’t be afraid to sing and be silly with your children. If it turns into a spontaneous dance party or marching around the walls of Jericho even better! This will also serve your family well after your fasting season is over.
Our worship team has put together a few playlists on Spotify, which can serve as a great jumping off point if you need ideas for worship songs to listen to! You can find the following playlists on Spotify: Ethos Church Complete, Ethos Church Recent, and Ethos Church Kids.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND DURING YOUR FAST
One thing I have learned over the last few years is that God is so much more understanding then I give Him credit for. Sometimes I fail to remember that He desires a deeper connection with me, and that He wants spiritual growth for our family. I get stuck in the physical world and feel guilty or like a big loser because of (fill in the blank).
When in reality, our Gospel says that Jesus is cheering us along, the Holy Spirit is patiently waiting to fill us up, and God desires to help us grow. Whenever you feel like God is crossing His arms and shaking His head at you, stop and give yourself an attitude check. (That’s what we call it in the Etheridge house.) You may need to reach out to someone, pray, read scripture, or just call it out for what it is. If you can relate with me here, memorize Romans 8:1.
Fasting is difficult, there is no way around it! Really check your heart, attitude and motives before you step into it. If this is the first time you have ever done a spiritual fast and you are doing it with small children in the home, set realistic expectations! It is better to have realistic goals and follow through with the fast then to “crash and burn” and never try fasting again. If you need to start off small this first time just to experience seeking intimacy with God in a new way that is great! Then you can build up to fast in different ways each time after that. Small baby steps towards deeper faith and connection to God are always better than a mediocre or stagnant faith.
Our children are like little sponges! They are learning about God and how to orient their hearts towards Him from watching us as parents. Modeling spiritual disciplines is an amazing gift you give your children. A home environment where children are able to see and model intimate faith in Jesus is a treasure that will stick with your children through a lifetime. Even though fasting is a personal endeavor between you and God — it can also be a learning tool where our children encounter grace and discipline. During your fast, be careful to model grace and hope in your words and actions, rather than legalism and criticism.
Take every opportunity to share with and involve your children during your fast. Depending on the age of your children this can look a lot of different ways.
Ways To Involve Your Children In Fasting
Talk to them appropriately about what God is teaching you, convicting you of, or growing in you during the fast.
Read children’s Bible stories that are connected to the passages you are reading in your Bible and share thoughts together.
Encourage and help them to memorize small amounts of scripture and say them together during meal times.
Explain what you are doing and why and then ask them to help serve you. You could ask them to pray for you. If you have older children, ask them to help serve you by not nagging for food or eating in front of you.
Questions To Ask Yourself
Do my children eat out of boredom and how may this effect my fast?
Do my children eat packaged and processed foods that leave them hungry for more? How can I avoid this - or - how can I create new rhythms and practices during our fast that might make things easier for the entire family?
Do we use foods as rewards for our children? What is our plan during the fast?
Do we have any upcoming holidays, birthdays or school parties during the fast? What is our plan?
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We are praying for you and your family! We believe in you — but more than that, we believe in the powerful, present, and kind ways of our God! May he fill you with joy and intimate connection as you embark on fasting and prayer with your family!
If you have questions or need encouragement, feel free to reach out to the Ethos Kids team!