Fasting for Families
Should kids be encouraged to fast during Lent? Fasting from food is not recommended for children; however, there are other things kids can fast from, including certain types of foods and non-food items. How and to what degree you involve your children in fasting is a decision you can make based on your own family. Here are some ways to introduce fasting and engage your child:
Ask if they have heard of fasting, what they know, and explain it to them in an age-appropriate way.
Fasting is about depending on God and deepening our prayers. In the Bible, in Christian history, and still around the world, people fast from food as a way to enter more deeply into relationship with God. We ask the Holy Spirit to transform our hunger for “stuff” into hunger for God, who is the giver of every good gift and who alone can satisfy our deepest desires.
Fasting is also about “letting go” of something so that we can “pick up” something else, like the love and presence of God. One way to think about fasting is like removing weeds around the base of a tree. Some of the weeds might actively harm the tree, but others are just neutral plants that are in the wrong place. Even though they might not hurt the tree, they are blocking the tree from getting what it needs - water and nutrients in the soil. If the tree does not get enough water, nutrients, and space to grow its roots, it may not be healthy enough to grow good fruit. Like trees, we need good nutrients for our souls, and we need to remove the things that get in the way.
Model your own fast – talk about what you are doing and why.
Here is an example of one parent’s explanation for their 9-year-old (from Spiritual Disciplines for Children by Vernie Schorr Love): “An example of fasting for me would be for me to stop eating dark chocolate for a while, which you and I both love, so I could have a time of being close with God instead. Here’s how it would work for me. I would tell myself that whenever I thought about eating a piece of chocolate or had a chance to eat some, I would take a few moments to think about God instead and be close with him. It would be a way for me to show him that I love him.”
Invite them to participate.
Fasting should be done voluntarily. Kids are often limited in their sense of autonomy, so we must be careful to give them ownership of this process, empowering them to make the decision to fast for themselves. If they don’t want to do it, that’s ok!
Older kids might find it meaningful to be part of the church-wide fast schedule, with some alternatives on weeks that don’t apply to them (such as juice or soda instead of alcohol).
Ask your kids if there is something that feels “addicting” to them, something that is hard to stop or they think about all the time. Building on the tree analogy above, introduce your kids to the idea that when our souls are well-nourished by the Holy Spirit, we bear good “fruit”: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Are there “weeds” in our lives that make it hard for that fruit to grow?
Invite the kids to help decide on a meaningful structure. Perhaps fast a small amount each day, or a larger amount of time once each week?
Experiment! This is not all-or-nothing. This is simply an opportunity for us to introduce an important spiritual practice to our kids as they grow in faith.