I am not a fan of fasting. I like my food. Still, I fast once a month on Fast Sunday. I didn’t when I was pregnant or nursing, which means that for about ten years I fasted maybe a grand total of six times. One of the reasons I was apprehensive about weaning my youngest was that I knew I would have to start fasting again, and boy-howdy, I do not like to fast. I was looking forward, however, to my husband not being the big fasting martyr of the house. That routine gets old–but I digress.
Another thing I was looking forward to was helping my older daughter learn to fast, or learn to fast better. Let’s just say that she is thusfar unimpressed with this program. She thinks there are better ways to help the poor, ways that don’t involve starvation, or the torturous salivating over one’s little brother’s goldfish crackers in the middle of the sacrament service.
When I started fasting again, in April, I could truly say that I felt my daughter’s pain. I have never liked fasting. At all. Though I fully bought into the spiritual benefits in theory, in reality fasting was never spiritual for me. I fasted, I gave my fast offering, I thought of people less fortunate than myself. I thought of the sacrament bread and water, the only food or drink I was allowed to partake of, and how that was supposed to nourish my soul. I got all that, you see–I knew it was a beautiful thing, or should have been. If my stomach had only stopped longing for a grilled cheese sandwich for two seconds, I might have learned something. Stupid stomach.
So my daughter wasn’t feeling my solidarity so much. She tried to entice me over to her side. Together we could rebel against my husband and eat whatever we wanted. I didn’t give in, though I’d be lying if I said I was never tempted. Low blood sugar, you understand.
Yes, the low blood sugar, it’s a problem. But there is a boy in our ward–I’ll call him “Vaughn” (that’s a Mormony name, eh?)–who has bone cancer. He’s going through some very difficult treatments right now, and our bishop announced during a sacrament meeting last month that our ward would hold a special fast day for his sake. That fast would start the following morning, a Monday. I knew that I would participate. I couldn’t not. My brother had cancer as a little boy, and our family’s ward held a special fast for him. It meant so much. I knew that I had to fast for Vaughn, and for his family. I can’t imagine anything worse than losing a child, unless it is to watch your child suffer. All parents have to do that, to some extent, but some children suffer more than others. I know how hard it was for my mother to endure my brother’s chemotherapy. I know how hard it is for Vaughn’s parents. I wouldn’t ask my daughter to fast, but I had to. I wanted to.
That Monday was hard. But I have to correct myself right there. “Hard” has no meaning in the context of my life that day. I got up in the morning, got my five-year-old ready for his first day of swim class. The sitter was going to take him, but he wouldn’t get in the car with the sitter. It was 8:45. The class started at 9:05. I had to take my daughter to her day camp at 10.
I had to go with my son and the sitter to the swimming pool. I had to wake up the baby and take her with us. I told my older daughter to eat breakfast while I was gone, that I’d be back in time to take her to camp, but I would have to bring her sack lunch to her later. I left my older son asleep in his bed. We drove to the swimming pool. It took longer than expected. We were almost 15 minutes late. My son didn’t want to take a cleansing shower. He didn’t want to get in the water. The baby didn’t like the fact that she was awake, or that she hadn’t had breakfast, or that I had not a thing in my purse to offer her, or that her brother got to go swimming and she didn’t.
It became obvious to me, as it should have been from the beginning, that I would never get back home in time to take my oldest to camp. I couldn’t leave the five-year-old at the swimming pool with the sitter because he would freak out. He was just beginning to tolerate being in the pool. I called my husband on the off chance that he would be able to leave work immediately and take our daughter to camp. My cell phone was on its last bar, but I got through, and my husband agreed to take our daughter to camp for me. It was a Monday miracle.
Finally the World’s Longest Half-Hour Swimming Class That We Were 15 Minutes Late For ended, and we took my son into the dressing room, where he proceeded to take the World’s Longest Cleansing Shower. We had to remove him from the shower forcibly and take him home soaking wet in the car. Once at home, I fed the baby some strawberries and cheese sticks, threw lunch together for my day-camping daughter, and herded everyone back into the car. We delivered the lunch.
It was all good, but it had felt so hectic, and I had not been feeling so well, mental-health-wise, for the last several weeks. I was feeling very stressed out over the fact that I hadn’t paid the bills yet and I still needed to order tickets for Thomas the Tank Engine (who was coming the following Monday and what if they were all sold out?) and I was supposed to babysit my friend’s kids on Tuesday when she volunteered at the church camp and I was supposed to volunteer on Wednesday–or was I?–and there was this cryptic note on the calendar and the library books were probably overdue (again) and I was supposed to be having Potty Time with the kids 3-6 times a day and the baby’s diaper still hadn’t been changed and there were six loads of laundry waiting for me and I needed to work out a time with the sitter when my husband and I could go to the temple because we hadn’t been in 2008, even though the temple is only 20 minutes away, and now with all the little bumps in the road, all the unplanned stuff that throws me for a loop when I’m not on my game, which I hadn’t been, mental-health-wise, in weeks–it got the heart racing. We did more before 10:30 than we usually do all day. Ordinarily I would deserve a doughnut for this. Or at least a bowl of cereal, which was what I really wanted. I wasn’t constantly thinking about my missed breakfast–I hadn’t had time to think about it, but every so often I’d feel sick to my stomach and realize that it wasn’t just the stress over my petty problems, but it was also the fact that I hadn’t eaten anything. And I hadn’t eaten anything not because I’d forgotten, but because I was purposely not eating anything–because my problems were petty, and someone else’s were huge. Someone else was having a hard day. I was not.
I was in the car thinking this, and I realized that I hadn’t really hoped to accomplish anything with this fast. I knew that I had to do it, but I didn’t know what good it would do, just as I never know what good my prayers will do, because I am not a spiritual person. I just wanted to do something, to support this spiritual activity by fasting along with some actually-spiritual people and hope that my perpetual cynicism didn’t contaminate the faith pool too much. How much good could my fast do without prayer? I haven’t been very good with prayer lately–like, for a few years. I get that prayer is not about bending God’s will to mine, but my will to God’s, but really, what does that mean, practically speaking? I’m a practical person. That’s why I was fasting and not praying.
When did praying become so hard? The list of things to be grateful for and people worth blessing is so long, I become overwhelmed. And anyway, a prayer is not a list. It’s supposed to be a conversation. But there seem to be so many rules for this conversation, I don’t know how to have it. Plus, there’s that part about me seeming to be the only one talking. That’s a problem for me, especially since I’m not gifted in that way. On a good day I can hold up my end of a conversation, but even on a good day I can’t get a response from a tree or a block of concrete, and I can’t get a response from God, either. I don’t blame God. God is blameless by definition, so obviously if He’s not talking back, I must be praying up the wrong Tree, as it were. I must be asking for things I shouldn’t ask for. I must believe that He’s not really there. I must not want to hear what He has to say.
If only it were as simple as just thinking my own thoughts. And that’s when it hit me. It is that simple. I’ve always known that I’m not a burning-in-the-bosom type of gal. I used to joke about my flame-retardant bosom. The only reason I don’t say that anymore is that I’ve stopped thinking that this is necessarily a shortcoming. I realize that the Holy Ghost speaks more to my mind than my heart. I suppose, though, that I’ve never realized that I can talk to God without necessarily organizing my thoughts into neat prayerbites. I’ve been taught to pour out my heart to God, but nobody told me I could do a brain dump on Him. If I don’t format my prayer properly, will God still know I’m talking to Him? I’m sure He must. Will He acknowledge me? Maybe he has been all along.