I never set out to fast from shopping for a year.
Instead, I planned on one month. The month of January, 2015. Two months after my birthday and two weeks after Christmas. Let’s be honest: the sacrificial level was not high since my closet was so recently full.
But that’s just the thing: we are good at giving up things that don’t cost us much and calling it sacrifice. I’ve done that, before. It’s pretty shallow.
The reason for the fast in the first place happened in tiers. I couldn’t find things in my closet, not because there was nothing in there to find, but because it was so full the things got stuck behind other things. (This is a good indication of excess, by the way.) I went to Honduras. The poverty, as expected, made my excess feel especially egregious. But mainly, I just knew shopping was getting in my way of me and God, in that way we just know deep down and no one needs to tell us. Shopping had become my relief for feeling chubby, boredom, desire to silence the relentless call of God. I was tired of the justifying — that I was paying in cash and buying things on a bargain and shopping no more than anyone else — at the end of the day the excuses were all an echo and I felt the same sheepishness at night when I was alone with God.
I didn’t do it for a book. I had already written I Want God. This was no experiment. It was another layer of obedience.
I got the point where I wanted to eliminate any reason God might not be blessing me. I wanted to do all I could on my part to make sure my life was clean so I didn’t have the distraction of guilt or worry. (Aside: I find that we worry a lot but many of the things that cause us to worry we keep around instead of giving them up, which in turn, would lessen our worry.) I didn’t want to worry that my excess was blocking the hand of God or continually asking myself the question “is this God or is it because of me” (maybe you don’t have trouble distinguishing between this, but I do), so I did something about it.
At first, I was not going to go public. Had no desire to wave any kind of martyr flag. But a few weeks in I knew exactly what I needed: accountability. I suppose it’s hard to be in the checkout line with a basket full of clothes and have someone who knows you’re on a shopping fast see you and ask, so I saved myself the embarrassment.
I had planned to blog about this in January when my fast is over. But I have gotten a startling number of private Facebook messages, emails and texts from people as of late who tell me the same thing: I believe God is calling me to a shopping fast, but I’m scared. Can you talk to me about yours?
So I write of it sooner than later, with the hope to help in whatever way I can with whatever fast God is prompting you towards. (This is not a specifically spiritual post about fasts. Please refer to the Bible for Biblical aspects of it.) Please, I’m no expert. But I’ve walked this, yes, and there are some things that I believe, helped.
- I took it very seriously. This was a hugely personal commitment to my God, not a revolt against shopping, itself. I wanted to go to the depths, not swim on the surface — break free from the grip of wanting something other than God and I knew in order to do that, it had to be of length and substance. I determined up front there was no length to which I would not go to keep my commitment (see #3). What started out to be a month very quickly changed to a year. Why? Because I knew God was asking me for that length of time. Why? Well, it’s God, so I probably shouldn’t try to guess. But in my human mind I can only gather that He knew the length of time it would take to break me from the grip.
- I made it doable. I know, I know. A year of no shopping doesn’t sound doable. But trust me, it is. Not everything was off limits. I didn’t go crazy with a wild-haired plan that would never work. Instead, I focused on the over buying. Necessary toiletries, maintenance things (hair coloring and cut), clothing for my family were not a problem. Shoes, jewelry, hats, clothing for myself were the offenders. So I focused on those things and fasted them for an entire year.
- I planned for it. I am a big believer in saving myself from myself, and this experience certainly confirmed it. Because I knew it would be a difficult thing for me not to compromise, I made it as impossible as I could. I did not go to stores for the first 6 months (after that time, I eased a few stores back in but some of the ones I love the most I still have not been in for a year). I went public with my fast so people could watch me and bust me, if necessary. (I felt sure God would make that happen if I slipped.) I truly believe it is in allowing ourselves that moment of secrecy that we mess ourselves up the most. So I set myself up for success by methodically planning out how not to fail. (Let’s be honest. Sometimes it takes our heart awhile to engage with our mission. That’s ok. All the more reason in the beginning to plan until the heart kicks in and desires change.)
- I talked to God about it, a lot. We’ve been in this together since day 1. Only He has known my private thoughts, struggles and successes, and that’s the way it should be with Father and child. Prayer kept me sane throughout this process and made it harder and harder for me to want to disappoint the One I had committed the fast to in the first place. In that way, a few months in, prayer really sealed the deal.
- I didn’t think about messing up. Trust me. I knew it might happen. But I didn’t focus on it because I felt in that focus I would have to choose grace over legalism (always the right choice) and that might set up a mindset that I didn’t want to allow in. I just didn’t want the focus to be on the day or moment I messed up. Instead, I chose to focus on keeping my eyes locked on God. I knew there would be too much internal noise to contend with if not, and I needed all the heart heading in one direction.
So. Your inevitable question. Did I mess up at any point this year?
Yes and no. Yes, if you count the pair of Walmart $20 knock-off Birkenstocks I bought in Springfield, Missouri, on one of my speaking weekends this fall when my shoes I had been wearing for two days were so awful they were making the bottom of my feet pinch to the point of fire. It’s well worth your scorn, by the way. :) I couldn’t have walked one single more step onto a plane in those awful shoes. And bonus: I wear the $20 knockoffs now, all the time.
And yes, if you count the awesome Target travel bag I bought a few months back when mine broke at the handles. You would die over the cuteness. Plus I have something to carry things in. Turns out you sort of need that for travel.
But no, if you don’t consider those things a mess up. By the grace of God (and I mean this, heartily), I bought nothing else during my shopping fast for myself. Two times, I had something in my cart to buy. And two times, I was able to walk away. (Thank you, Jesus.)
How has it changed my life? I’m sure I will be assessing this in the months to come, and I’m sure some of the ways I may not ever fully know. But there are a few things I can put words to, today: 1) I have new confidence in my ability to tell myself no. I was never very good at that in this area. Now I know how to be smarter about shopping and when it goes south, how to quickly pull back before it gets out of control. 2) Spiritually, I’ve been drawn in to God in a new way. We did this, together. He helped me when no one else could. Those things make for depth in the relationship. And just…I believe when you obey God in any area of your life, your life gets better. Not prosperity Gospel stuff. Deep, dredged heart ways.
As January draws near and the time for my shopping fast is coming to an end, I am more determined than ever to not let it all be for naught. For that reason, I’m doing the following things:
Making a solid, practical plan. I can never assume being healthy in this area without one. My plan is that for every new piece of clothing (shoes/jewelry/etc.) I purchase, I have to get rid of 5 things in my closet. Yes, this is steep. But it’s necessary. In our #missionhouse, there’s no room for anything more, anyway. (Thanks, God, for the extra little help.) Needless to say, I’ll have to love something enough to let 5 other loves go. So this is a good plan and will help me stay choosy.
Continuing my passionate pursuit of God. There will be more things to chip away. There will be more discipline and recalibration. It won’t end with a fast from shopping. My wanting God journey doesn’t stop with January and the conclusion of my fast. It continues for the rest of my life. Having fasted shopping for a year, in a new way, I know the only thing I can’t live without is Him.
This is long and I need to close. But thank you, once again, my faithful readers, for the honor of sharing this piece of my journey.
And to my friend reading who is being prompted this very moment by God to enter into a fast of your own…with the softest of hearts I say: don’t run. Say yes. That the Lord would be calling you deeper means He loves you much more than you know.
p.s. Man, I love ya’ll.
Let’s talk about this on my social media. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. (Links in the right margin/black and white banners on this page.) Need me to pray for you in your fasting endeavor? I will. I love how God uses us to help each other as we so humanly limp along.