Time for a Change?

How subtracting from your life can actually add to it!

If you're anything like me, you probably feel overwhelmed by all the changes you'd like to see in your life—especially around the New Year, when change is the "thing" to do.

I already know what I need to improve—my fitness level, availability to friends, amount of quality time with God. But sometimes, the more I resolve to change, the more I feel as though I've failed when my "to do" list of goals ends up a crumpled piece of paper in a dark corner of my desk—and in my mind.

That's why, this year, I decided to take the opposite approach to make some positive changes in my mental, spiritual, and physical health. No fifty-two-weeks-a-year-or-bust self-improvement plan for me! Instead of adding more to my life, I'm seeing what I can delete from it for a manageable, unintimidating span of time—a week. And I'm discovering that the benefits I gain from these "fasts" are surprisingly healthful. Give them a try; you'll benefit, too.



Fast from WORRY


When my husband had to undergo biopsies for cancer, I was anxious. But once he completed radiation treatments and life went on, I really fell into the worry trap. After all, since we weren't doing anything "proactive" anymore, strangely life seemed less in control. I found myself worrying inordinately about our future, about doctors' visits, even about my own health and the health of our kids. Needless to say, my mindset wreaked havoc on my mental and physical state—I became sluggish, depressed, filled with aches and pains. I knew I had to change.

So I hit on the idea of "fasting" from worry—no easy feat when you're a self-proclaimed "worry wart." But I remembered some advice I'd given my daughter Sarah when she was in grade school. Every year when her school held "Fire Safety Week," Sarah would lie awake at night worrying about our house catching on fire. "Mom, I can't sleep," she'd moan. "I'm worried about a fire, and I can't get it out of my mind."

"Sarah," I'd tell her, "pretend your mind's a television set, and you're switching the channel. Now watch something happy, like family vacation memories!"

As with anything in parenting, sometimes my advice worked, sometimes it didn't. But years later, it was time to taste my own medicine. So each time I found worries swallowing up my thought life, I forced myself to change the channel. I'd intentionally focus on something concrete and pleasant—cardinals perched on the feeder, the winter sunset tinting the sky a frigid crimson—to blot out my preoccupation with "what ifs." Or I'd repeat a favorite Scripture such as Psalm 94:19 (TLB): "Lord, when doubts fill my mind, when my heart is in turmoil, quiet me and give me renewed hope and cheer." I determinedly tried to "take captive" every negative thought "to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5).

If someone told me just to stop worrying, I'd say impossible. But I decided to try it for a week—with the help of God's Spirit and his Word. While I didn't become perfectly peaceful, for those seven days I felt healthier and more optimistic than I had for quite a while. This is one fast I've repeated when certain situations start feeding my fretful nature.

If worry's something you'd like to change about your life, try switching stations for a week. It will transform the way you feel.



Fast from SALE ADs


I admit it, I love to shop—not so much for myself, but for my family and especially for my house. I can talk myself into needing new towels or a set of queen-sized sheets—especially if they're on sale. I mean, what if they never go on sale again?

Did you catch the irony in that statement? As Ecclesiates 1:9 says, "There is nothing new under the sun." I might add, there's nothing on sale now that won't be on sale again. My trouble is avoiding temptation!

One summer, for example, I spied a sales insert for beach chairs, something I'd never had any interest in owning before. But since we were going to the beach for vacation, I was convinced we needed to shell out bucks right away because of their low, low price. Fortunately, I hadn't crossed the threshold with our credit cards before my husband, Rich, talked some sense into me: "Jane, why on earth spend money on chairs we'll probably only use once, then they'll end up cluttering our garage?"

Rich had a point. And my point is, sales supplements are meant to entice. But chucking those Sunday inserts without so much as a peek won't kill you—and may even save you some cash. I've found that when I toss them, I don't incite buying fantasies and am better able to resist the impulse sales that eat away our income.

So fast from ad supplements for a week, and you'll improve your financial health.



Fast from FAST FOOD


I love Wendy's, and fortunately (or not!) there's one right around the corner from my office—not to mention other drive-thrus that call out to me at lunchtime.

We've all been told to cut down on the fat in our diet. But I only set myself up for failure with an all-or-nothing mentality. So this time, I tried the incremental approach. Instead of that Greek Pita or Big Combo, I brought a more healthy lunch from home for a week. And guess what? After skipping fast-food joints at lunchtime for a week or two, I discovered, surprisingly, the stuff just didn't have the same appeal. Plus, I saved a load of money! And with the additional confidence I gleaned by making one small change—packing my own healthy lunches—additional change toward healthier eating habits now seemed less daunting. I bet you'll discover that, too.



Fast from THE MEDIA


No, I'm not talking about abstaining from all television, newspapers, and magazines entirely for a week—or from renting and watching a family video that lifts your spirits and makes you laugh.

What I am suggesting is a fast from all the bad news floating out there. Pick up the latest magazine from the grocery-store newsstand and cover copy fairly shouts at you: "Will skin-eating bacteria endanger your family?" "E.coli is out to get you!" or "What silent symptoms are YOU ignoring?" Grim financial outlooks, children killing children, white-collar crime—it seems that in today's world, nobody's honest, nobody's to be trusted, and nobody's sure we're going to survive into the next century!

That's why it's important to keep a balanced view. Yes, real life is sometimes hard, scary, tragic. But it's also filled with hope, God's grace, and people who are loving, kind, and self-sacrificing. Life isn't all bad, dangerous, hazardous, brimming with imminent disease, disaster, or death—but on a steady diet of the daily paper or the evening news, you can often feel as though it is.

Several months ago, I decided to fast from the depressing stuff and concentrate on the upbeat. So instead of punching on CNN or Dateline, I sat down with my then thirteen-year-old daughter, Emily, to watch I Love Lucy reruns. It became a nightly ritual in our house. No matter how busy or tired I was, I made a point of sitting down on the sofa with Em to laugh until tears rolled down our faces at Lucy Ricardo's antics and Ricky's rolling eyes. After the show, the television went off. No ten o'clock news, no Nightline. And I never missed it.

The benefits were twofold. I spent precious time bonding with my teen by cultivating a joint interest and I ended my day with vigorous laughter and happy thoughts—instead of visions of trauma, disaster, and mayhem. I found that when I limited what I exposed myself to for just a week, I felt more joyful, less fearful.

This year, join me in taking a break from the doom-and-gloom for seven days—you'll start looking up!



Fast from CRITICISM


I once read an article about a woman who decided to button her lip for a week and refrain from criticizing her husband when he forgot to take out the garbage or failed to call when he was coming home late. Would he notice the difference in her behavior—and would it make their marriage more loving? It did.

My biggest challenge isn't with my husband—it's with my teens. I can blurt out a barb about their dirty bathroom or make a sly dig at their "fashion statements"—and torpedo our relationship with my tongue. But stuffing my gripes, big and small, for a week, forced me to spend more time on my knees talking them over with the One who made me and my teens—and anyone else who occasionally bugged me. And the more time I spent with the Lord, the more petty those peeves became.

There's power in what you say—but also in what you don't say. Fast from criticism for a week; it will impact the way you relate to others.



Fast from NOISE OVERLOAD


I don't know about you, but when I'm in my car, I turn on the radio. When I'm home, a stereo's always pounding away up in one of my daughters' bedrooms, a telephone's ringing, a dog's barking, a television's blasting, and a hairdryer's blowing. And I'm usually cooking dinner with a Walkman on!

What would an "unplugged" life be like? And how does the noise I invite into my life, not to mention the unavoidable background drone of technology, traffic, and people, affect me? All those decibels, I decided, make me tense, tired, and crabby.

So I tried unplugging those earphones on my Walkman and turning off the car radio for a week. Talk about withdrawal! Yet as I took nature walks with my dog and listened to birdsongs instead of talk shows, or talked to my teens in the car instead of zoning out on "Dr. Laura," I found that fasting from the exterior noise that soundtracked my life calmed my spirit, readying me for God's still small voice. So—if only for a week—eliminate the excess noise you can control, and see what a difference it can make in your life.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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