This week, I wanted to highlight the spiritual discipline of fasting. It’s not something that everyone has to do, and it is not something that benefits everyone in the same way. But it has helped me in my recovery from crossdressing addiction and I think it could help you too. Let me first explain some principles and ideas about fasting in general. After that, I’ll talk specifically about how it has helped me in my battle against crossdressing.
Fasting is a spiritual discipline that dates as far back as biblical times. Christians throughout history have fasted. Most of the time when people speak about fasting, they are referring to going without food. Of course, we could also fast from things like video games, social media, television, technology in general, etc. But normally fasting is going without food for a period of time. Some people try to go without water as well, but I would advise against that as it can be dangerous and it is unnecessary for the fasting to still be effective. When I’ve fasted I’ve gone without food but still had water, milk, juice, etc. When still drinking liquids, you experience the hunger pains but you are able to go a whole day or even many days without any health complications.
God commanded fasting at certain points in the Bible, and makes it quite clear that it is something good for us to do from time to time. When Jesus taught the disciples about fasting (Matthew 6:16-18), he did not begin by saying, “if you fast” but rather “WHEN you fast.” He expected us as his followers to fast once in a while. There are also clearly many benefits in fasting for a Christian:
• Fasting can help us to be more humble before God, showing that we value him and our time with him more than food itself.
• Fasting can help us to focus on the spiritual more than the physical. The physical world is not bad, not at all, but sometimes we focus on it so much that we need to be shaken to focus on the spiritual and fasting can do that.
• Fasting can be used as a reminder to pray. Each time you get a hunger pain you can remember to pray for something. In the history of the Church, Christians have often connected fasting with prayer especially for important events or praying about the trials that others are going through.
• Fasting can help us to destroy our habits of gluttony.
• Fasting can be a way to remind ourselves about justice and the poor, to be generous to those who are always hungry.
• Fasting can teach us self-denial and to be people that will serve others.
• Last, fasting is a helpful way to show God our repentance and this is one of the main uses of fasting we see in the Bible. While we are forgiven for our sins through Jesus, and not through fasting, fasting is a good way to show ourselves and God that we are taking our sin seriously, and we are denying ourselves food as a reminder. The hunger pains remind us of our sin, of God’s forgiveness and grace, and of our desire to not commit those sins anymore. Learning to say “NO” to the hunger pains teaches us self-control so that we can later say “NO!” to sinful temptations the next time they come.
Some people fear that fasting is dangerous and unhealthy. The opposite is actually the case. Fasting is very healthy. (For a few people with health conditions perhaps fasting is not a good idea, you know your own body and please don’t feel like you are being forced to fast). But for most of us, fasting is healthy. Fasting gives our bodies a rest, it can clean out our bodies, it can help us to lose weight, it can help to lower our blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and it helps give our bodies time to heal. Fasting can even save you a tiny bit of time and money!
Fasting sounds like a strange idea to many of us who are in Protestant churches. Part of the problem I think is that many of us evangelicals are disconnected from our bodies. Our Christian faith is all about what is in our head – our knowledge and what we believe. And we focus also on our heart – what we feel. But we do not exist just as heads and hearts. God made us with bodies. Our bodies are part of who we are and part of God’s good creation! In Matthew 6, Jesus criticized the Pharisees for having a disconnect between their heart and their bodies. They were doing the right bodily actions, fasting, but without the right motives in the heart. Today many of us make the opposite mistake. We think it ONLY matters what is in our hearts. But our bodies matter as well and we need to get over this disconnect. Fasting is a good way to use our bodies in a way that will help us to better worship God, as long as it is done for the right reasons in our hearts.
Now, how does fasting help with a crossdressing addiction, or a struggle with sin of another kind like pornography? As you can read in my “About” pages, during certain periods of my life I have fasted extensively. At times, I’ve fasted for up to 3 days. It was tough. I did so as a way to show my repentance and to help myself truly repent (to truly turn from my sin), and to help myself remember not to fail again. So each time I failed in crossdressing or masturbation, I would go to God in prayer. I would repent, enjoy his forgiveness, read his Word, take joy in the promises of God’s Word about his forgiveness, and then commit to living for God again and resisting the sin of crossdressing. After that time of prayer I would begin a fast, usually a 1 day fast. And if I failed again in a recent time frame, I’d up the fast to 2 days, and so on. Those days were not fun! But they helped me a lot to take my sin more seriously. And they gave me tremendous incentive to not keep failing! Of course, this only works if you have true regret about what you did, true repentance, and enough self-control to force yourself to do the fasting as a punishment.
Rewards and punishments really work, at least for me. I have friends who have experienced great success with dieting and losing weight, also through a system of rewards and punishments. Obviously, in Christ we are under grace. God has taken away are punishment and we do not need to punish ourselves. But I think of it as a way of training my body in righteousness. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
But again, it’s not only about punishment. When I’ve fasted, every hunger pain was a reminder not only of my recent failure in sin, but a reminder that I am forgiven in Christ, so each hunger pain became a prompting to thanksgiving. In addition, every time I felt hungry for food, it was a reminder to be hungering even more strongly after righteousness. Matthew 5:6 –
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
I’ve also done different kinds of technology fasts and I’ve found that those actually are more difficult for me than fasting from food, and it’s healthier to up the days of fasting with technology than with food. If you fail 5 times, it’s healthier to go 5 days without technology than to go 5 days without food. I recommend giving some kind of fasting a try in connection to your struggle with crossdressing. Even if you do not use fasting as a consequence of sin, like I did, you could use it as a special time set aside in prayer on behalf of your struggle.
And for those of you who struggle with gender dysphoria, I would recommend fasting as a way to remind yourself that this body which is hungering is really you, not just a cage for a spirit. Your body is part of who you are, who God made you to be. Fasting can remind you of this, and remind you to pray for God’s help in your struggle. It can help you to focus more on God and the spiritual realm, more on the life to come, than the difficulties of this present life.