Fasting Is What?


It might be a struggle at first, but fasting can be more than just enduring.

“Don’t forget this is fast Sunday.” Hearing my mother’s reminder was like hearing a judge pronounce “ten years to life.” Wandering out to the kitchen on a Sunday morning and discovering that the table was bare and there was no bacon smell made me want to crawl right back under the covers. How could a word like fast be associated with something that seems to drag on forever?

I remember fast Sundays spent pacing the kitchen floor as I tried to justify eating just a little something. “I need to take something for a headache, but I can’t take aspirin on an empty stomach.” When I persisted with my grumbling, good old Mom always said, “We don’t force anyone to fast around here. You are free to eat whenever you choose.” Sure. Eat while everyone else is fasting. And feel like a total jerk.

After a while, I learned not to complain and not to hover around the pantry. Instead, I’d go outside and mess around, or go to a far corner of the house and dive into the Sunday paper or a book—anything to take my mind off my stomach.

And so I fasted. At least I went without food and drink for two meals. I had been told I was old enough to fast, so I suffered through it, one Sunday a month. Rewarding? About like a forced run in gym class. It’s painful and unpleasant, and when you get through, all you have is the satisfaction that you toughed it out. Until—

Until one Sunday. I don’t know what got into me. (It certainly wasn’t pancakes! Might have been a past Sunday School lesson, though.) At any rate, I decided that I would really see if I could get something out of fasting besides killer breath. Why go through the discomfort and come away with nothing more than relief that it’s over?

So when I woke up that Sunday morning, I made a deliberate effort to be pleasant and patient. I didn’t prowl the kitchen, growling like an echo of my stomach. Yes, I spent some time reading the Sunday paper, but I also spent time (and effort) in the scriptures. When I went off to my room, it was not to sulk, but to pray—for patience, for understanding, for an increase of testimony.

My mouth still tasted like something small and furry had hibernated in it. But mouthwash helped. My stomach still threw tantrums for a while. But then the hunger pangs faded into the background, partly because I was tuning them out, and partly because my body seemed to shift into another gear.

As the day progressed, I actually became happy. (No, it wasn’t delirium.) In fast and testimony meeting I found myself watching the speakers and listening to their testimonies, rather than watching the clock and listening to my stomach. Being there felt good. When dinner time finally arrived, I discovered that I was able to sit calmly. A new sense of self-control allowed me to eat reasonably, instead of giving way to the usual gluttony of the “feast of the fast over.”

On the fast Sundays that followed, I often had to relearn the same lessons. It’s so easy to let the stomach control moods, thoughts, temper. And it’s easy to go through the motions and discomfort of fasting without finding joy in it. But as I persevered, I continued to learn to actually enjoy fasting.

A few years later, in the mission field, proper fasting became even more important as I sought the blessings of the Spirit. Of course, I still had a missionary’s appreciation for food. In fact, one day our new zone leader leaned toward me over the lunch table, glanced down at my well-stocked plate, and said, “I’ll bet you really hate to fast, don’t you, Elder?”

My mouth was full of food, so all I could do was dumbly shake my head. But no. I no longer hated to fast.

Before I had really put myself into it, really looked for the rewards of fasting, I wouldn’t have understood what the Lord was talking about when he said:

“Verily, this is fasting and prayer, or in other words, rejoicing and prayer” (D&C 59:14; italics added).

But now I understand: There are rewards that go far beyond the meager satisfaction of just having endured.

[illustration] Illustrated by Rob Westerberg