For Hagerstown woman, 21-day fast started as a quest for answers in life
Dr. Andrea Dardello of Hagerstown is an educator, author and life coach who wrote the book "Fasting for Leaders from the Pulpit to the Pew: Twenty-One Days to Find Your Godly Purpose." (By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer / December 28, 2012)
Bad habits are hard to break. But each new year, millions of people resolve to do just that.
They vow to follow a healthier lifestyle, be a better listener or be a kinder, more giving person.
They promise to fight compulsions and addictions, to soothe emotional upheavals or change annoying behavior patterns.
But within weeks, if not days, there they are — back where they started.
If you really want to succeed in turning negatives to positives, if you want to give meaning to your life, Dr. Andrea Dardello has a suggestion.
In this case, however, it's not just about eliminating food.
"It's a purposeful fasting," Dardello said. "It's less about what we consume physically but what we take in mentally."
In an effort to help people take a proactive stance in improving their lives, Dardello is offering a challenge — "21 Days for Change."
Dardello said "21 Days for Change" simply asks people to give up one thing that does not serve them for 21 days.
"It can be certain foods, activities, thoughts — anything," she explained. "While giving up what does not serve them, participants also will be asked to take note of how their lives are different. The concept is that when we make changes in our lives for the better, by extension we also help to improve our families, our communities, our nation and even our world."
The ultimate goal of the national YouTube campaign, she said, "is to prepare participants to do something that will speak to their life's purpose, thus leading to contentment and fulfillment."
Dardello said change happens first within the mind.
"Therefore, if we can change our minds, anything is possible," she said. "This is not just about making resolutions or following man-made rituals. It's an invitation to tap into your purpose and then get to work."
A resident of Hagerstown, Dardello is a professor of English at Howard Community College in Columbia, Md. She also is a motivational speaker and life coach.
"The three integrate nicely into my life," she said. "Many of the concepts of life coaching are what make for an effective educator: listening actively, asking empowering questions, championing, celebrating and holding others accountable while being nonjudgmental at the same time. These qualities are also what enable me to motivate others and lead them to success."
Dardello said she seriously became involved with fasting in January of 2010 when she participated in a corporate fast with her church family at the time.
"It is common for pastors to call fasts at the beginning of the year, since it is a time that we associate with renewal and change," she said. "And while I participated in many fasts, this time would be different."
Dardello said she didn't want to fast "simply because everyone else was doing it. I wanted to fast to find answers for my life."
Her pastor, Rickey A. Smith of Zion Baptist Church, agrees.
"Fasting enables us to see ourselves doing work that we wouldn't ordinarily see ourselves doing," he said. "Jesus said that we would do even greater works than he did. Greater work can only come about through fasting, which enables us to get clear about what we have been called to do."
Dardello began to read what the Bible had to say about fasting, particularly Isaiah 58, since it dedicates a full chapter to the topic.
"Because I went into the fast fully anticipating answers, I kept a journal of new insights and changes that were happening both within and around me. I wanted to know for sure that the promises of God were real. So, journaling was a way to provide testimony of God's promises kept."
Because she is a life coach, Dardello said she applied coaching strategies to her fasting that would help her be successful.
"I downloaded inspirational songs to my iPod and I set aside an hour each morning to read scripture, pray and meditate," she shared.
It was through this process that Dardello authored the book "Fasting for Leaders from the Pulpit to the Pew: Twenty-One Days to Find Your Godly Purpose."
The book "is evidence of my fast," she said, and provides thought-provoking, yet easy-to-follow steps for successfully completing a fast geared toward understanding one's purpose.
"Because my purpose and calling are now clear, I want to demonstrate to others how they can achieve the same clarity of direction for their lives through fasting," she said.
Dardello said she wrote the book "at a time when I was seeking answers about how to live a more meaningful life. Despite my degree and position on my job, I was feeling empty and unfulfilled. I was torn between doing what was expected of me as an academic and pursuing my passions of the Bible and life coaching. I wanted more out of life and I knew the only way to find it would be to connect with God in a meaningful way. That would mean, not just giving up food, but reading scripture, meditating, listening to uplifting music and partnering with others who identified with the need to find their purpose."
Many people, Dardello noted, typically associate fasting with sacrifice — food, in particular.
"While this may be true for those who fast purely for health or dietary reasons, a spiritual fast has a different purpose," she explained. "Spiritual fasting is about releasing and willfully letting go of anything that does not serve us so that we can make room for that which benefits our lives. Spiritual fasting is a way of releasing what is holding us back so that we have the freedom to move forward. In this sense, spiritual fasting enables us to make room for the greater in our lives."
According to Dardello, people often mistake fasting with just receiving.
"As I discuss in the book, fasting is really about accessing our purpose," she said. "Every God-appointed fast has a spiritual purpose, so the result of this type of fast prepares us to do something. When we enter into a spiritual fast, we do so not with a laundry list of things we want, but with a desire to serve God, ourselves and others better."
Dardello said there are many physical, mental and spiritual benefits associated with fasting.
"Food fasts, in particular, help rid the body of toxins, fight infection, prevent addictions to food, slow down aging and reduce the risks of heart attack," she said. "Mental benefits of fasting include improved concentration, stress-reduction, an increased awareness of excessive tendencies and an increased sense of overall balance. And the benefits of spiritual fasting — taking time for God — include guidance in decision making and receiving answers and insights from God."
"Often times, we wait for change," she added. "We wait on others with titles to do something for us, when the real power for change exists within ourselves. When we begin to change our sense of what we are capable of achieving, the possibilities for our lives are endless."
Because change is a process, Dardello said those participating in the fast will receive support over the 21-day period.
"Those who join us will receive day-by-day tips, encouragement and support," she noted. "To this extent, participants will be surrounded by others going through the same experience and will be able to share their challenges and triumphs in a loving, nonjudgmental environment."
Dardello said a YouTube video has been created to help explain the program's mission. It can be accessed by going to YouTube and typing in "21 days for change."
The fast officially begins Jan. 6, Dardello said, "however, it is our belief that the most successful fasts are those that are planned in advance. So, beginning Jan. 1, we will begin instructing participants about what it means to fast for purpose and will provide tips about how to successfully conduct a fast."
Dardello said those who want to join the campaign can do so by going to www.facebook.com/21daysforchange and click "like."
"We will be referencing the book (Fasting for Leaders from the Pulpit to the Pew) often," she said. Persons interested in purchasing the book, which retails for $12.99, can go to www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore
Dardello said she has been making people aware of the fasting campaign through YouTube and Facebook and has distributed postcards to churches throughout the area.
"Our goal is to get 1,000 or more to join us," she said. "Currently, more than 150 people from across the country have signed up to participate."
Dardello said participants will differ in what is holding them back. For some, it might be bad eating patterns. For others, it might be shopping, arguing or gossiping.
"Often, it is a lack of reflection that causes us to become victims of circumstance rather than taking control of our lives," she said. "Purposeful fasting prepares us to take back the reins."
Dardello said that during the 21 days, fasters will have the opportunity to see how their lives are different "and if they find their lives are better as a result of the choices they've made, they may choose to relinquish the behavior altogether.
"In this sense," she said, "the results have the potential to be permanent and beneficial. Ultimately, this is the goal of '21 Days for Change.'"