Fasting and the accidental revelation

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.

Comments

  1. 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.

    Wow. One fasting experience like that is worth monthly starving-to-death-for-church days.

    I realized that I hadn’t really hoped to accomplish anything with this fast.

    Ironic that when I was taught about fasting, having a purpose has always been stressed, it is the difference I am told between skipping meals and fasting (I’ve always thought the difference was whether Diet Coke was involved). The examples of purpose were generally about me – to solve some problem, answer a question, grow my testimony of a principal, etc with the fasting for a loved one held out more as a special occasion fast. Fasting had all these rules, starting with a prayer, remembering your purpose, breaking with a prayer, time limits, could you have water or not, etc.

    But here, the “accidental” revelation about your own spirituality and role of God in your life is received well before the 2 meal mark and when your fasting purpose is totally unstated and unrelated, and best yet, your purpose is not even about yourself. So my accidental revelation from your post is a manifestation of how losing ourselves is the best way to find ourselves. Thank you.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    All of a sudden I’m very glad that I’m not a mother of young children!

    Congratulations on the wonderful spiritual insight. It was a well deserved revelation.

  3. I had an unusual revelation during my fast this month. It was that there was absolutely no way that what I was fasting for was going to happen, but that things would still work out okay.

  4. C.S. Lewis wrote a line that had stayed with me for 50 years. It seems slam-bang relevant to your insight, Rebecca. I’ll have to paraphrase it, but this comes pretty close: “When a man no longer wants to keep the commandments, but still is determined to do so, he can experience some of the greatest spiritual growth of his life.”

  5. Everything you say here has helped me.

    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

    This, to me, is incredibly profound. I do this too. I pretend to be feeling things I don’t really feel and for reasons I don’t relly believe in. The truth is, I am never going to be THAT person. I am never going to embrace fasting and prayer and scripture study.

    I am trying to learn that there is no “right” way to experience the Gospel. Maybe my more pragmatic approach is what I need. Maybe I need to stop feeling guilty for not being ultra-spiritual and instead embrace the beauty in the practical parts of the Gospel.

    Thanks for your post.

  6. Rebecca–I can relate to some of your feelings. I am a little hyper active and though you didn’t say that about yourself it came through.

    I think Heavenly Father accepts hyper style fasting if it is sincere, but I think we cut ourselves off from hearing the spirit. I believe, as you inferred, He is always speaking to us, but we don’t always hear.

    I keep a journal of sacred experience and I have hundreds of experiences. Some of them are so sacred that I can hardly believe they actually happened to me, but they did. I been given visions, dreams, the gift of tongues, ministering of angels (unseen), spiritual impressions, and etc. I have had very few occasions where the Lord communicated to me via burning-in-the-bosom.

    Based on my experience, everyone can learn to better hear the voice of the Lord if they really want to. The first, and most important part of doing so, is to ask. We’re taught in the scripture to diligently seek to obtain the Holy Ghost, to hunger and thirst. Anything we petition from the Lord in this manner will receive a response. I always ask the Lord to please help me to hear His response and to avoid making errors. I’ve fasted and prayed many days petitioning the Lord to help me be sensitive to the things of the Spirit. I’ve been doing this for over forty years. All that I can say is that it’s true. The Lord speaks to us if we are sincerely trying to be a true follower of Christ.

  7. Rebecca, that was beautiful and profound all wrapped up in an amusing post.

    I am so glad that God listens to the incoherent, interrupted ramblings of my heart. I’ve figured if he could create the world, he could follow my train of thought.

  8. Love this post.

  9. Thank you! Especially for your honesty about your current struggles with prayer. Sometimes the most helpful thing is to know that others are having the same struggles as I am.

  10. I love this post too- Actaully, I love all of Rebecca J’s posts. All my revelations are accidental; is there another way?

  11. Elouise–that’s my favorite, too! I think this must be the same idea, if not the same exact quotation–I know it from the Screwtape Letters:

    And that is where the troughs come in. You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to over-ride a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve. He is prepared to do a little overriding at the beginning. He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot “tempt” to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

  12. Kristine, that is one of my favorite quotes from any source. I loved it the first time I read it – and just about now.

  13. I’m one of those people who receive answers to prayer, strong, definite answers. My husband is not one of those people. It’s always puzzled me. Why is it so hard for him? I still don’t know. He has other spiritual gifts, I guess.

    I realize that the Holy Ghost speaks more to my mind than my heart.

    I don’t really know what you mean by speaking to the heart. I always receive answers in my mind. Well, let me amend that. I realized a couple years ago that I can ask for my feelings about a particular action or decision or whatever to be changed, if it is right—and my feelings have been changed.

    Have you ever sat out at night and prayed to the starry sky, with your eyes on the heavens? It can be a powerful experience.

  14. #12 – I meant “just as much now”.

    Rebecca, I forgot to say how much I enjoyed this post. Very insightful.

  15. Gosh. This is wonderful Rebecca. This part?

    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.

    Yes. Exactly. I pray and read scriptures and go to church because I think/hope I’m supposed to be doing it, and because I’ve always been taught to do it. But the acts themselves never really bring me any inspiration or revelation. It just feels like I ought to do it, and so I do. Because what is the alternative? Giving up?

  16. And I will say that I see prayers being answered, and I see other’s prayers being answered, I just never HEAR the answers myself. So maybe I’m just hard of hearing. :>

  17. This makes me think of Bruce Almighty, where the answers are all around him, but he just doesn’t see them. I think I’m kind of like that, too.

    Susan, I could really use some clear answers right now- will you pray about my life? ;)

  18. Ughhhhhh, Bruce Almighty??? Oh Tracy.

  19. Steve, my oldest son thinks the chance to watch Morgan Freeman act makes any movie worth watching.

    Also, which would you prefer – Bruce or Evan? Just saying.

  20. I didn’t say “Supernal movie, Bruce Almighty”!

  21. My best experiences with prayer have been when I’ve forgotten all about the proper formatting and prayerbites–when I’ve done the brain dump, unedited (substitute swears and all!).

    I cannot readily recall any particularly wonderful/life-altering experiences with fasting. I do it because I feel I should. Every once in a while I manage to remember to throw in a purpose, but it’s usually a half-hearted effort so I don’t think it really counts. It’s on my list of things to master along with all those other commandments I’m not very good at.

  22. Tracy, you are sooo not a newbie anymore! No one has ever used “supernal” outside of General Conference! :)

  23. IMO, fasting is very useful in controlling addictions, at least physical addictions. When our bodies cry out for food, with their lowered blood sugar, we are teaching our bodies that our spirits are in charge. Not the other way around. With this control, we should be able better to put off other physical cravings – for nicotine or for alcohol or for caffeine. Perhaps for other physical addictions (e.g., sex?), as well.

    I suspect that fasting would be useful in overcoming the non-physical addictions, e.g. pornography, but – if so – the mechanism of action is likely different: can the spirit control the mind as well as, or as easily as, it can the body?

  24. A Gratefully Recovering Addict says:

    I can confirm what Paul says, from my own experience.

    Occasional fasting is a tool that has aided me in recovering from addictions, including sex addiction and other process addictions. So long as it does not go to anorexia, which is the flip side of a food addiction (another way to medicate away uncomfortable feelings).

    In my experience, occasional fasting has the twofold benefit of asserting to myself that my spirit is stronger than my body, thereby giving me assurance that I can continue to overcome addiction, but also bringing a more quiet, meditative, and serene state of mind to my usually hectic A.D.D. state of being.

  25. I heart Rebecca J.

    I could have written this post.
    I’ve always thought that my feeling the Spirit has nothing to do with feeling anything. It’s just when my inner dialog kicks up a notch and the good angel on my shoulder starts shouting.

    Thanks for this post!

  26. Fasting is a mystery to most because it requires strong discipline and some people may say its not healthy. Remove food from your daily life and the spirit grows. As a testimony, I’ve tried it several times to learn about the experience and spiritual growth and it’s quite amazing.
    If you can try it for 3 days or 5 days (the less people you tell while your doing it the better) and pray about it. Just pray …no fancy way just a conversation with God some amazing things that aren’t coincidence or by chance things will be revealed. I have been a christian for years but don’t feel I was a truly a christian before fasting. I feel a strong connection to the holy spirit, something divine. Separate from the common person. I hope anyone out there that is looking for God to move in your life …show him your dedication, your love for him and he will definitely appear in yours and when he does you will know what I mean. He’s a living God. Try it and I hope you find the blessings poured upon you infinate.

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