The following blog was written by Sydney Clayton. Sydney is passionate about spiritual growth and discipleship and seeing the kingdom of God spread. She and her husband, Dave, planted Ethos Church in 2008 with a small team of friends. They have three boys: Micah, Jack, and Judah. Her hope is that this blog can inspire and inform you if you are contemplating a sun up to sun down fast — and if you have never heard of this or thought about it, ask God if this is right for you!
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My fasting journey has been a relatively short one. At the beginning of 2016 our family went on a mission trip to Kenya. While we were there, we stayed with our dear friends who are leaders of a church planting movement. They were just finishing up their annual fast in January of 30 days. I listened to my friend Carol explain the importance of strengthening ourselves, and our next generation by denying ourselves through fasting. God calls us to deny ourselves, to pick up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). He tells us that hardship will inevitably come (Romans 8:35-39). Fasting gives us the spiritual backbone to lean into the Lord, even when we are uncomfortable.
As an American, I am rarely uncomfortable. My heating and air conditioning in my home and car assure me that I will never be uncomfortable. My stocked pantry assures me that I will never be uncomfortable, and my neighborhood Target assures me that if a need may arise, and I might even think I could become uncomfortable…it is there to comfort me. The idea of intentionally making myself uncomfortable through fasting sounded ridiculous.
As I listened to Carol talk about the spiritual breakthroughs from prayer and fasting, and I listened to her approach of grace, I was amazed. She and her family did a sun up to sun down fast for 30 days. Their 13 year old son had the hardest time with it. They were very surprised, because he was the most disciplined of their 3 children. Her approach when he struggled with hunger was to say, “Let’s ask God to fill your stomach with spiritual food so that you are not hungry any more. Let’s ask Him to take away the discomfort. If you need to eat, then eat and give yourself grace. Try again tomorrow!”
(If you've never heard of sun up to sun down fasting...it's pretty much what it sounds like...from the time you wake up until the time the sun goes down, you don't eat any food. You drink water (and lots of it!) during the day. And when the sun sets, you break fast with dinner. And the next day, you start again...sun up to sun down.)
Wow. Carol's approach left room to fail, room to grow, and it was wrapped up in grace. What a sweet picture of invitation without condemnation. Carol understood that it was more important for her son to learn dependence upon God, rather than to check the box of fasting.
I love what our friend, Shodankeh, says, “Start small. Start with just three hours." It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. We can start at the beginning and work our way up. For me, the first time that I felt Holy Spirit prompting me to fast was two and a half years ago. Our oldest son was about to begin kindergarten. I felt that I was supposed to devote that day to praying over who he would have for his teacher that year, pray for the teacher, the classroom, his new friends, the administrations, etc.
So, I did. Sun up to sun down, no food, only water. I was obedient. I never thought I could do a full day, but I did. Leaning on Christ to give me strength, I made it through the day. When you feel prompted by the Spirit and are really invested in what you are fasting about, it is amazing how much discomfort you can tolerate. Once you realize you don’t have the power to do this yourself, but are truly dependent upon God, you begin to lean in and ask Him to do the seemingly impossible, like fasting.
With fasting, I always thought “I get too hangry…no one wants to deal with my bad attitude when I am hungry.” What’s amazing is that the hangry will come, but now you can name it. When I felt the hunger, it reminded me to pray for what I was fasting about. I prayed more about his school year in that one day than I had in the months leading up to it (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
A few months later, I felt I was supposed to do a longer fast. I felt like I was supposed to do 7 days of sun up to sun down with no food, only water. So I did it. By day three I realized I felt very sluggish. I was walking up the stairs carrying our almost 2 year old when I noticed my legs felt weak. I didn’t think much of it and carried on with my day. About 3 hours later, I was walking through Toys R Us (before they closed up shop) with my almost 2 year old, my 4 year old and my 6 year old. I started to black out and realized what was happening. I stopped immediately, grabbed the counter and held on knowing that I was desperate to not pass out, crack my head open and be rushed to a hospital in an ambulance with three little kiddos.
For me, this was eye opening. I can be too hard on myself and I needed to remember those words of grace. So, I drank juice during the day for the rest of the fast instead of just water.
When fasting, we need to slow our pace of life down. I need to cancel meetings, I need to not workout, or at least not as intense and as often. I need to not host people in our home as often, or maybe simplify it when I do. When I fast sun up to sun down, I notice I am exhausted by 8:30 each night. I need to listen to my body. My body needs the sleep to rest and rejuvenate, and I need to expend less energy while I am taking in less calories.
For some of us, we can really slow down our lives while fasting, but when you have young children, or are a caregiver to another individual, young or old, you often are not afforded that opportunity. I have learned that on those days, I may need to juice at times. Maybe that day I need to wake up before sunrise and eat so I have a little more energy to complete the tasks of the day.
As I have brought fasting in as a regular discipline, I have learned a few things. With any fast, prepare ahead. When I do a sun up to sun down fast for more than a day, I plan meals ahead and freeze them. For our 30 day fast, some friends and I meal swap ahead of time and freeze them. (Who wants to prep dinner while you are starving?! Talk about temptation!!) I also have community that I enter into with longer fasts for accountability. I juice ahead of time and have some ready in the fridge if needed. I have pre-made snacks in the freezer for the kids so I don’ t have to drool over their food as I make them a snack. These are all just things I have picked up along the way...and you may find other ways to help make your fast more successful!
Fasting is a journey, not just an item to check off on your list. As with any journey, there can be detours. Be gracious to yourself, and lean on Jesus to carry you (Philippians 4:13).
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A Note from Caity Shinnick
I'd like to reiterate that fasting is a personal decision between you and God. A sun up to sun down fast is one that you should enter into with great intention and preparation, and if you have any health concerns, are nursing, or are pregnant...then we urge you to speak to a health professional before fasting or choose a different type of fast.