Fasting, Feelings and Framing

What are you telling yourself? (Fasting, Feelings and Framing)

Phil 4: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.


In our season of fasting, our success lies in the will – the decision-making part of our body. That means that we will have to pay attention to what our body (our senses and muscle memory), our soul (long held beliefs and habitual thoughts), and the Holy Spirit are telling us, and determine which one will affect our actions. However, how we feel about our situation will affect whether we will respond instinctually, like an animal, or obediently, like a child of God.


Last week we ended quickly with an introduction about how our emotions and thoughts affect our decision making.  Negative moods cause us to focus on the here and now, while positive moods allow us to step back and see the big picture.  That is why people who reviewed their reasons to be grateful ate up to 77 percent healthier foods.


When you are in a bad mood, or in pain, you end up with tunnel vision focused directly on the negative emotions or physical feelings you are having. Everything else fades to the background, and the problem becomes magnified in your vision.  The molehill becomes a mountain. If a part of my body like my hand hurt, my father would laughingly say, “I know how to make that pain go away.  Come here. I’ll step on your foot!”


But there is a very real truth found in that statement – pain naturally absorbs your complete focus, disconnecting you from everything else. This is a reason why people cut themselves. It draws all of their attention away from their circumstances, thoughts and feelings and they experience temporary.  So when we are in a bad mood or in pain, we automatically get lost in the present sensory experience.  But when we feel good (or at least do not feel bad), we can focus on something other than the present, on more abstract concepts, like increasing our health and well-being, practicing self-discipline, and pleasing God.


When you are in physical or emotional pain, you have a most strong sense of urgency immediately alleviate the pain. Therefore, you focus on how the food or drink will taste and make you feel, or how the drug or sexual experience will bring relief.  You don’t really think about it – you just reach for it – even if you know in your mind that this won’t fix anything long term. How you feel NOW is all that matters.


However, when you are not in pain, you are no longer in an urgent rush to protect yourself. The animal instinct subsides, and you are free to think about other long term things, like your goals for the future, and how your actions will get you closer to or further away from those goals. You will consider how nutritious the food is, and what the result will be of eating it. You will think about how you will feel tomorrow when the hangover hits, or whether or not you want to chance getting a disease from this stranger you are considering sleeping with.


So how do we deal with these negative feelings that are making us act like wounded, unthinking animals? Now many of us believe that we have no control over how we feel. We think that things happen to us and we automatically “feel” a certain way.  But in reality, it is our thoughts that determine how we feel, not outside situations.


Let’s say you bang your shin on a chair.  The sensation of pain is immediate.  You can focus on the pain and it gets worse.  However, you can immediately shift your focus to deep breathing, and rubbing the area that was hurt to get blood flowing through it, and you will find that the feelings of pain subside much more quickly.  Since the brain cannot think about two things at once, the distraction of the breathing works to lessen the pain (think about breathing in childbirth).


Or think about getting a shot when you are afraid of a needle.  Looking at the needle being brought out and prepared, and then watching it go into your skin increases your fear, you tense up, and experience the expected pain. But if you don’t look at the needle or know when the shot will come, or talk to the nurse during the procedure, many times, the pain is much less, because you haven’t blown it out of proportion in your mind.  You are distracted.


Now, how do you feel when the sun is out and you look outside the window?  Most of us feel invigorated and positive, looking more forward to the day. However, if it is gray and overcast, we feel more yucky.  Now we are not outside to feel the weather, we are just looking at it through the window, and yet it still affects our feelings.


What if, on an overcast day, we close our eyes and imagine it is a gorgeous, cloudless sunny day?  We will feel just as if we were seeing it through the window.  Isn’t it amazing that just imagining something different affects our feelings?


I bring this all up because what we are seeing, imagining and feeling affects how we will respond to our body, soul and spirit options. Either we will respond urgently and instinctually, like a cornered, injured animal, or purposefully and mindfully, like an actual human being.


That is where gratitude comes in. What does gratitude do for you? It takes your mind off of the present problems, and re-opens your eyes to everything else in your life, much of which is very good.  It provides you with much needed perspective (to reveal that the molehill really isn’t a mountain), and busies your mind with thoughts beyond the present.  It allows you to stop acting instinctually, and start acting mindfully.


Let me give you some examples from my own life. You all know my struggle with my eating disorder. Exercise is a big part of my life. I am trying to teach my brain to understand that not exercising for a day, or not exercising at a certain time for a certain length does not mean that I will gain weight that day. If I am threatened with the possibility that I may not get in my allotted exercise for that day (or the week), I will actually start feeling a panic attack coming on. I’m not completely healed in that area yet, so I respond instinctually (like an injured animal) to those imagined threats against my weight loss and maintenance.


But I have started talking to myself when I feel the panic attack.  I speak to myself the truth, that I have successfully created a habit of exercising over 6 hours a week, so missing one day will not destroy everything I have achieved.  I also remind myself about how grateful I am that my body is now physically eager to exercise, and I enjoy it. By this time, the urgent need to respond instinctually, without thinking, has passed, and I can feed myself some more input to help me make a healthier decision, like this one day without exercise is just 1 out of approximately 7300 days (about 20 years) I have left to attain my desired goal.


Another example of adjusting my perspective would be how I was making myself sick over the 20+ pounds I couldn’t seem to lose. I was comparing myself to the people who had lost over 100 pounds in the time it had taken me to lose 50. It was the focus of all of my thoughts.


However, when I flipped on the gratitude switch, and started being thankful for the fact that I had lost 50 out of my 70+ pounds, and now wear normal sized pants, and only had 20 – 25 to go (instead of 70 pounds to go), I felt happier and more satisfied with my present self and what I had accomplished. How far I had come trumped how far I had to go, and I was able to make thoughtful decisions rather than respond habitually.


Lastly, during this fast, along with being strict with no sugar and dairy, I am doing intermittent fasting, which means I only eat during one 8 hour period during the day. I no longer eat before noon or after 8 pm.  This is a struggle for me, because I have created a habit of eating in the evenings when watching Netflix with Ronnie.


So I get these strange phantom cravings. I’m really not hungry or craving anything; it is simply my body going through withdrawal from my normal nighttime habits. I feel edgy, because I’m not doing what I normally do. But during this fast, I’m not really tempted to eat. This is strange to me.


I wondered why I am able, at some times, to be successfully disciplined in my eating as opposed to the other times. Why, when I tell God during a fast that I am not going to eat these things, am I able to do it more successfully than when I am just making a deal with myself?


I think it is because I get a sense of personal satisfaction from successfully keeping my promise to God. That positive feeling allows me to focus on the abstract, future goal of completing 21 days of this fast, instead of focusing on immediate ways to relieve myself from the discomfort of edginess.


Think of the things you are attempting to fast.  What are saying to yourself about fasting those things?

  • I don’t want to fast that.
  • I will feel horrible if I fast that.
  • I can’t see myself fasting that.
  • I can’t get myself to fast that.


You are framing, or presenting, the fast to yourself in a negative way, telling yourself that it will somehow harm you, which in turn makes you instinctually feel like you need to do whatever you can to protect yourself from this encroaching, unwanted poacher in your life. Your attitude toward the fast is “You’re going to take away my _____ (food, drink, cigarettes, etc.)?  Over my dead body!”


However, what if you say these things to yourself about fasting?

  • Fasting will bring me feelings of satisfaction and success.
  • Fasting will bring me closer to God.
  • Fasting will increase my health and wellness, increasing my quality, enjoyment and length of life.
  • Fasting will help destroy strongholds and obstacles that I truly want removed because they are ruining my life.
  • God says that He Himself will empower me to accomplish this fast because He has called me to do it.


Here, you are framing the fast to yourself in a positive way, which deactivates the self-protective fight, flight, flee or freeze responses, relaxing and freeing you to start meditating on these reasons to fast.


Once you can trust God to empower you to successfully fast for just 24 hours, you can start expressing your gratitude for that victory. You can say, “If I did it for 24 hours, I can do it for 48 hours” (positive framing). If you’ve done it for 2 days, you can do it for 3, and that is almost half of a week.  If you can do it for 7, that’s 1/3rd of the way through the fast.


Gratitude for what God has done for you, and is capable of doing now and in the future, breeds increased trust in God and motivation to obey Him. Think about the things you are grateful for, and then act as though you are expecting even more good things are to come.


Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such thingsWhatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.


Prov 17:22 A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones


Matthew 7:  11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!


It is completely up to you whether or not you will re-frame your situation in a positive light so that you stop responding like a threatened animal and more like an empowered child of God.  God says that it is within your power to transform your mind by taking every thought captive and only acting on it if it agrees with the Holy Spirit.


2 Cor 5:We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.


Rom 12:22 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.


Once you start to capture your thoughts, you can begin to control your tongue.  You are speaking death or life over yourself, and either chaining yourself to a life of negative thinking and fleshly responses or a propelling yourself into the positive realm of thanksgiving, peace and joy that comes from walking by the Spirit.


Prov 18:21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.


Prov 18:7 A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul.


Prov 4:23 Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.