When Fast is Slow

I couldn’t believe what I had gotten myself into. How could I expect to meet all of these demands, all of these expectations? And yet, somehow I wasn’t stressed. I wasn’t exasperated. But, I was busy. And I was beginning to feel overwhelmed. 

Photo by Nathan Cowley on Pexels.com

It was the summer of 1999. I was hired in May to be a part-time youth pastor at our church. I was excited about it. I loved working with young people and had spent the previous year as a volunteer. The year had been a whirlwind itself. 

My full time job was as an administrative assistant for the College of Education and Human Services at Wright State University. I led a group of student workers to process undergrad and graduate applications into the college. Ironically, I loved my job. 

I say ironically because being an administrative assistant (full disclosure: my title was actually secretary) was a role typically served by a woman. When I tell people I used to be a secretary, they often tilt their head a little to understand. And I laugh about it to ease the awkwardness. To be real though, to this day, this has been one of my favorite jobs and even more ironically, I was assigned that role initially by the U.S. Marine Corps when they made me an admin clerk on an open contract.

Though I loved that job, I had been working 40 hours a week at it and had recently been hired as a part-time youth pastor. Those that have served in ministry know that when you add the word part-time in front of your title, it just means that you are being paid that way. There is no such thing as part-time ministry.

In fact, we were flying through one of the busiest times of the year for youth ministry, SUMMER! Students are always more available in the summer with school being out and all so we had more trips, more events, and well, more everything to keep them busy with positive activities. 

In addition to these two full-time jobs that I had, my wife and I were raising our three-year old daughter, Morgan. Thank God, she was a very easy toddler to raise! So compliant, so sweet, such a fun, good girl. We had just closed the previous winter on building our first home and that summer it was completed and we were able to move in, in late July. We had been staying with my in-laws for nine months in preparation for our move-in. 

Have I mentioned yet that I was a full-time student at Ohio Christian University? (Circleville Bible College, at the time) I was completing my bachelor’s degree in religion with an emphasis in leadership and ministry. Thankfully, I only had to attend class once a week on a Thursday night. It was an hour and a half drive from work, but only an hour home afterwards. It was a four-hour long class each week, but the time flew by and we discussed our studies. 

I have no idea how I made it through that summer. Those were certainly the busiest months of my entire life. My only explanation is… God got me through.

There was one other factor that I am sure helped a lot. 

That summer, I decided to fast. What?!? You might be thinking, you decided to do all of that without food???

Well, not exactly. I decided to fast MEDIA. Most people think about fasting as going without food for a period of time. But, that summer, I decided to fast media. Anyone who knows me knows that I love technology and television so going without them was a bit mind-blowing.

On my days off when I was a full-time (paid) youth pastor, I would sit in front of the television from dawn to dusk and after. (Thanks, TiVo!) It was a habit from my childhood that helped me relax and escape. That being said I was a bit of a television and media junkie. Though social media had not really been invented yet, the internet was very available (thanks AOL!) and I perused my email quite often as well. I loved scouring the internet for information about my sports teams and signing up for newsletters about them that were delivered directly to my inbox. 

I got mail! 

I actually decided to fast as a bit of a challenge to our youth group. I read or heard something about doing it and that it could be beneficial for our spiritual journey, so I decided to try it. I was just waiting to start twitching since I gave up all forms of media for the week.

No television (bye, bye Dawson’s Creek). No computer (outside of work and school responsibilities). No cell phone. (Oh, wait, I don’t even remember if I had one yet). No newspaper. (We definitely still had one of those.) No magazines. (I am sure, my pre-season NFL magazine was the most difficult to put aside!). No media (bye, bye ESPN, sniff, sniff).

Can I tell you how bored I was? Working practically two full-time jobs, going to school full-time, raising a three-year old, during the busiest season of youth ministry and moving into a new house and I was bored.

I found more time than I knew what to do with. 

That’s the way it is with a fast. You quickly see things differently. You begin to realize how much certain things meant to you. And maybe you wonder why they meant so much.

Typically, during a fast, you can also replace the item that you are going without with another more positive interaction. If you fast food, for example, when you are hungry that is the time to pray. Or read your Bible. I’m not sure how much I did that, I mean, c’mon, it was my first fast and thankfully it wasn’t food. But, I’m not sure which would have been harder for a week. 

It was not easy. It seemed to take forever. Let’s just say, my fast started off really slow.

But, crazy enough, it didn’t stay that way. Time has a way of flying by once you start something new and get past those first phases. What seems to take forever will fly by before you know it. And it did.

I got to the end of my week and celebrated by sharing my experience with the youth group and challenging them to do something similar. 

I was blown away by how much I had been filling my time with useless media consumption. I was blown away by how much it mattered to me when it was gone. AND I was blown away by how much less it mattered by the end of the week. 

The insight and experience was well worth it. 

So, I tried it again, just this week. Only, this time, it is not a pure media fast, but a social media fast. I had found myself checking on my news feeds way too much lately and felt twitchy a lot. You know the phantom buzzing in your pocket that isn’t really there so you check your notifications anyway?

I’m off social media for a month. I’m five days in. My only exception is my ability to post this blog so I won’t see your comments for at least 25 days unless you text them to me personally. 

The first few days, I felt twitchy and wanted to constantly check up on things. But, I didn’t cave. Then the first Indiana Hoosiers basketball game came and normally I constantly scroll through Twitter during pre-game and commercials to read the #iubb commentary. How did we enjoy games before twitter?!! I guess I’m finding out. I definitely missed it and it was a different experience already.

I’ll let you know how things go in about a month. Until then, feel free to try your own SLOW fast. 

What could you give up? For how long? What can’t you give up? What are your thoughts and experiences with fasting? I would love to log on in a month and read your responses. Feel free to send them to me directly. Have a great month!

Published by Shawn D. Congleton

traveler, writer, lover of God, thinker, family dude, in no particular order

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