Slow Down: Fast Students lead 40-day challenge

Last year, Walla Walla University's student association encouraged students to spend 20 minutes each day with God. This year they decided to try something different and challenged students to "Slow Down: Fast."

"We asked them to take a look at their lives and ask themselves if there was anything getting in the way of their relationship with Christ," explains Garrett Speyer, ASWWU spiritual vice president and 40 Days organizer. "Oftentimes what we find in that space is really hard to give up, but in doing so, we're able to grow so much."

This is where fasting enters the picture.

ASWWU was quick to explain fasting is more than abstaining from food. They urged students to look at every aspect of their lives and to consider giving up Facebook, television, video games, movies, texting or even behaviors such as holding grudges, taking revenge, lust, greed, gossip, etc. Though they didn't discourage students from food fasts, they made sure participants had healthy guidelines to do so.

"When I heard what others were giving up for the challenge, it really struck me how much stuff we have in our lives," says Speyer. "It's hard to recognize that, and even harder to give things up."

Speyer explains that fasting doesn't mean strictly giving something up; participants could also add things into their lives.

"For example, you can give up Facebook and spend more time praying," Speyer says. "Or give up movies and go to bed early. Fasting looks different for everyone, and we encouraged students to be creative."

To support the students in their 40 Days journey, ASWWU offered wristbands. The bands were white with red lettering reading: "40 Days — Slow Down: Fast."

"The white means purity, since participants are attempting to purify their lives," explains Speyer. "Red represents Jesus' blood, which is what makes us pure."

The challenge began in mid-January during ASWWU's Week of Worship. At each day's CommUnity gathering, hundreds of white rocks were provided on which students wrote what they were giving up. Those rocks were then placed at the foot of the cross on the church platform. Throughout the week large chalkboards were placed in different locations around campus on which students were encouraged to write what they were giving up.

"We wanted people to see that others were also struggling — sometimes with the exact same things," says Speyer. "We wanted them to know they weren't alone. It was really powerful to see what the issues are and to see the students willing to lay these things down as a means of growing closer to Christ. I think it speaks volumes about the kind of community we have here at WWU."

In an effort to help them on their journeys, ASWWU partnered with the local ABC Christian Bookstore to give participants a 40 percent discount on any book they chose, and several recommended books were made available through the campus library. ASWWU started a Facebook discussion page for participants to encourage and support each other in the challenge, and following the 40 Days, hosted a special vespers and Sabbath gathering where students were asked to share experiences.

"We were a little nervous about how the students would receive the idea of fasting, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it was with open arms and commitment," says Speyer. "Sometimes it may have been difficult, at other times rewarding, but our main hope was that through fasting, the students of WWU would gain a better understanding of the greatest sacrifice of all: Jesus dying on the cross for each of us."

April 01, 2011 / Walla Walla University
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Becky St. Clair, WWU GLEANER correspondent