Kids and Lenten Fasting: Yes, No, or How Much?

I was raised in an Episcopalian, church-going family. My mother volunteered anywhere she was needed, my father served on the vestry, and my sisters and I participated in choir, youth group, and other various church activities.

I remember my parents observing Lent each year, mainly because my mother would always give up sweets, and if she couldn’t have them, neither could we.

When I was a child, Lent never made sense. As a teenager, it seemed pointless. If Jesus suffered for us, why should we purposely suffer? If we are saved by faith through grace and not by works, why do we need to give up something?

As I grew closer to Christ, I came to see it differently.

In his book, The Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster lists fasting as one of twelve spiritual exercises the Christian can (and should) practice to grow in Christ-likeness.

“Superficiality,” he writes, “is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem” (p. 1). Foster says the world does not necessarily need more intellectual geniuses but points to a great need for those possessing spiritual depth.

Foster makes the case that the mark of the disciplined is joy, not drudgery (see p. 2). As a parent who desires to see my children grow and thrive in the Lord, I wondered if this was something I should encourage. If so, how much? Scripture makes no reference to children observing periods of prayer and fasting, but neither does it prohibit it.

As I wrestled through it with the Lord, a scene from a movie flashed through my mind.

Room, released as an independent film in 2015, tells the story of a young boy who spends the first five years of his life locked in a shed. His mother was kidnapped at the age of seventeen and gave birth to Jack two years into her captivity.

After a dramatic and daring rescue, Jack and his “Ma” find themselves in a world that looks vastly different from the one she left. Smart phones, text messaging, social media—these are all things that had passed the two by during life in Room.

Ma reunites with her mother, and they attempt to settle into life together. To entertain her inquisitive son, Ma told Jack stories. One such story must have been Samson and Delilah because Jack believed that his “strong” was in his hair. As hard as his grandmother tried to get him to cut his long locks, the little boy refused.

Then one night, he found Ma lying unconscious on the bathroom floor. Unable to cope with life outside Room, Ma had tried to take her life.

She spent two weeks with no visitors in the psychiatric ward, and Jack missed his mommy. One night he approached his grandmother with a simple request.

“I want to cut my hair,” he announced.

Grandmother leaned in. “Why?” she asked.

“Because my hair is my strong.” Nervously, he glanced at his grandmother and then back down at his hands. “Ma needs my strong. She needs it more than I do.”

What is your “strong?” What do you rely on to support you, to pull you through difficult times? I’ve had a wide assortment of crutches through various seasons in my life, including food, alcohol, TV, and social media. Fasting reminds us that we aren’t meant to live independent, self-reliant lives, that it is God who sustains us. Through our sacrifice, we remember that every good gift is from Him. Fasting means we trust God with our strong, and in so doing, trust Him to be our strength.

Fasting is not a way of manipulating God into doing what we want. Nor does it gain us favor or approval in His eyes. We already have that in Christ. It is a way to take our focus off ourselves and press in to the Lord of lords. This year, my husband and I plan to invite our children to join us as we fast something for a season. Not because we have to, but as an act of love and devotion. Not to get something from God, but to give something to God.

Care to join us? Each Friday during Lent, we will take a day to give God our strong, and thank Him for being our constant source of strength.