Detox—getting rid of toxins. We detox our skin with spa treatments. We detox our guts with juice cleanses. Some detox through bodies with in-patient treatments.
Did you know we can also detox our souls? Just like our faces, intestines, and brains become saturated after continuous use of toxic drugs and substances, our souls do, too. Everyday our souls are inundated with words, attitudes, actions, and ideas that are toxic.
The Bible says that we should focus on things like this:
…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.
(Philippians 4:8, NIV)
But for hours each day, we hear deceit and watch people behave in ways that are wrong, disgusting, ugly, and despicable. We listen to the radio during our commute, watch 24/7 news coverage, read news story after news story that an algorithm sends specifically to us, and scroll through social media. We absorb hate and slander, gossip and pride. It shapes our moods, shifts our priorities, and sources our anxiety. It fills our souls with toxins.
It’s time for a detox.
There are methods for detoxing our souls just like there are other parts of our beings. We detox our souls with spiritual disciplines—not disciplines as in punishments—disciplines as in practices. Spiritual disciplines have been practiced for centuries by men and women seeking to tap into the full potential of an abundant spiritual life. In The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard lists two kinds of activities: abstinence—things you stop doing, and engagement—things you start doing.
Fasting is a discipline of abstinence: intentionally stopping a normal routine or behavior. We primarily think of fasting in terms of eating, whether as an intentional physical health exercise or to further spiritual or emotional health—but you can choose to fast from anything. The end goal is to interrupt your regular dependence upon something to note how you feel without it, to recognize how strong that habit might be, and to consider how you might reorient your normal routine. It’s a detox—stepping away from something for a period of time to allow your heart, soul, and mind the opportunity to recalibrate.
So, how do we detox our souls? In light of current circumstances, consider a media fast.
What Not to Do
The average American spends five hours each day on their smartphone; that’s a good place to start. What’s actually happening in those five hours? Some of us incessantly scroll Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, or we check the news constantly; notifications about emails and text messages are normalized interruptions to our day. It seems we’re constantly searching for…something. How many of us naturally reach for our phones at an intersection to ward off two minutes of red-light boredom? Ask yourself what you are actually doing when you’re on your phone—and why.
Computers and television screens offer a never-ending stream of distraction. Streaming services suck us into multiple episodes of dramas and reality shows. Cable “news” channels provide a front-row seat to adrenaline-filled shouting matches and dogmatic opinions masquerading as facts. Gaming platforms like XBOX and Twitch provide social interaction and distraction through competitive media. Ask yourself what you’re watching and interacting with—and why.
Take an honest look at how you consume media, and decide to fast from what is not absolutely essential. This might mean checking email twice a day instead of every 30 minutes. You may need to delete social media apps from your phone, or to create a new family rule for no TV or screens. Most importantly, determine what you will not do during your fast, and then plan accordingly.
It might be helpful to hear what Jesus had to say about fasting; Eugene Peterson puts it like this, in his paraphrase of Matthew 6:16-18 in The Message:
“When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God,
don’t make a production out of it…act normally outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair,
brush your teeth, wash your face. God doesn’t require attention-getting devices.
He won’t overlook what you are doing; he’ll reward you well.”
What did Jesus mean by this? We may not need to make a public statement about our fast. In some instances, such announcements are necessary to point people toward other communication channels. But oftentimes, such proclamations of our fasts draw attention to us and what we are doing. Fasting isn’t about focusing on ourselves—it’s about denying ourselves.
What to Do
Media—like food—has a constant presence in our lives. Deciding to remove something so pervasive from your routine will give you some empty spaces and free time on your hands. Fasting as a spiritual discipline means that part of our intention is to have a clearer sense of our spiritual growth and God’s presence—so just as important as deciding what you will stop doing is choosing what you will start doing. Figure out what you will do in advance, and make a plan! Here are a few ideas:
- Take a walk in the woods, and be intentional about noticing what is happening naturally
- Take a walk in your neighborhood, silently praying a blessing on your neighbors
- Read a book that’s been sitting on your shelf
- Write a letter—by hand—to a friend or family member you haven’t seen in a while
- Cook a meal for someone in your community
- Clean and organize a space in your home or garage that needs attention
- Call a friend on the phone just to catch up
- Rake leaves
- Plant a tree
- Do some landscaping
- Pray on the hour, every hour, for God to reveal something new about himself to you in a surprising way
- Write a poem, a song, or some other creative effort
- Get some exercise
- Read Matthew 6 in multiple translations
- Taking on household chores that you usually don’t do
- Plan an intentional family activity
- Have a sit-down dinner
- Go on a date with someone special
- Start a new project—or finish an old one
What to Expect
Fasting is not designed to remove a bad habit from your life, but to increase your awareness of the role something plays in your daily routine. While media in itself is not a bad thing, its impact—particularly during a season of intense conflict and division—can be quite harmful and detrimental to our emotional well-being and our spiritual growth. A short, one-day fast offers a brief look into the potential of practicing spiritual disciplines. You might discover:
- Better mood
- Diminished anxiety
- More margin
- Heightened creativity
- Increased physical health
- More restful sleep
- Deeper connections with friends and family
- Awareness of addictive behavior
- Improved self-image
- Less worry about the future
- More awareness of God’s presence
After the fast ends, be ruthlessly honest with yourself: What did you really miss, and why? If the fasting experience leads to better emotional health and self-awareness, it’s a win. You may want to plan a recurring fast—from media or food—as a regular part of your spiritual growth.
Fasting is a powerful way to practice self-denial, which is an integral part of a life following Jesus, who said (again, paraphrased by Eugene Peterson):
“Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how.
Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself—your true self.”
Matthew 16: 25 (The Message)
A step away from the media madness can be a step toward God and toward your true self. Fasting can give you a clearer sense of God’s constant presence and work in your life, of whom He created you to be, and of what you do and do not want in your life. Let’s do a detox, get rid of the toxins, and give our souls a fresh start.