The Complaining Fast

The first sunny Saturday after two weeks of rain, I donned blue gardening gloves, grabbed  weeding fork and  pronged hoe, and headed to the backyard. I found the variegated nasturtiums I’d sown around the now gone summer annuals had sprouted nicely, but so had clumps of dark red oxalis, thick sprigs of mint, and sprays of apple-green asparagus fern.

Complaining needs mattock


It’s not that these plants aren’t attractive, but they’re invasive intruders that send underground runners that twist around other plants’ roots, sometimes killing them. They’d have to go, but to painstakingly detangle each from the nasturtiums would take more hours than I had.

I called Clay over to show him the dilemma. He grabbed his mattock (its head is like a heavy hoe on one side and an axe on the other). Five minutes of hacking and thuds sent every plant flying … including nasturtiums. Earthy and minty scents surrounded us. With fingers and hoe, I carefully sifted the soil, removing every bit of root and tuber hiding beneath the surface. Later when we were certain the flowerbed was cleared, we planted a strong-rooted blue-flowered potato bush.

Some parts of our spiritual lives are like flowerbeds that need to have everything pulled so we can plant afresh.

For instance, take complaining. One day while thinking over “Do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14), I realized I’d grumbled a bit the previous few days. Maybe more than a bit—in fact, enough that I knew I needed a big change.

But the problem was some things that fall under the label of complaint are legitimate: sending back an overcooked restaurant rib eye, for instance, or carrying out Jesus’ directives to talk to those who’ve wronged us. Yet complaining is one of those things that always seem right at the moment and only upon reflection appear otherwise.

I knew if I tried to stop just the “bad” complaining, in the nanosecond of deciding whether I should pull what was approaching my lips, I’d make a lot of mistakes.

So I decided to do a 24-hour fast of all complaining, good or bad. Fasting is temporarily giving up something legitimate as a discipline and offering.

I discovered some things:

  • I wasn’t dealing with just a few little sprouts here and there, but deep running roots trying to push out shoots much more often than I thought.
  • Ninety-five percent of the complaints I yanked needed yanking. Ouch.
  • It was harder than I thought and I didn’t quite succeed, so I extended the fast one extra day for more soil sifting. That gave me a cleared plot into which I could plant what was valid.
  • For weeks after the fast I was keenly aware of when I was about to be negative, allowing me to pause and think before speaking.
  • When I did have to address something negative, I sounded less cranky.

The 24-hour complaining fast was so helpful I’ve repeated it throughout the years whenever I’ve noticed grumble weeds growing.

If you’ve never tried a complaining fast before, why not give it a try? Let me know how it goes.

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe ~Philippians 2:14-15


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    • Those bracelets were wonderful! Wearing something different is such a great reminder that you’re doing something special all day. You all come up with such great ideas!

  1. Fasting has only recently become a part of my life, and it is becoming more and more an integral part of my life. Like most people, though, when I think of fasting, I think of food. This idea that fasting is temporarily giving up something legitimate as a discipline and offering was a revelation to me!

    I don’t really have a problem with complaining. My habit is thinking that I have to pass comments on everything. As if my opinion matters to whoever is listening–my poor husband has a lot to put up with! You know what I mean–watching television, listening to the news–I hear something I have an opinion on, or think I have to correct, and off I go.

    So, taking Jean’s example of giving up complaining, I decided to go for 24 hours, giving up my comments. I have to admit, I didn’t make it. So I extended it for another day, and I improved. Still not perfect, but it’s a start.

    Fasting to break bad habits is a new idea for me. Setting aside the 24 hours made me very aware of my speech, every minute of the day. Not just the “comment” speech, but everything. Is what I’m saying kind? Is it beneficial? Will it encourage, or will it tear down?

    So I will continue this on a regular basis, as I have with giving up the food periodically. Even if I never lose the habit completely, it has made me very aware of how I use my speech, and how that speech affects those around me. I

    Many, many thanks to Jean for taking the time to keep this blog, and for the encouragement you give. God bless you!

    • Laurie, yours is a fabulous testimony…thanks so much for sharing. I’m sure this will help and encourage many. God bless you!

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