At church, once a month we’re encouraged to fast. That means we skip two meals, and instead donate that money for the poor.
Kids usually don’t, and those with medical concerns don’t, but able-bodied folks like myself do.
I’ll be honest: it’s still difficult. Obviously I get hungry, and sometimes focus on that. I also get sluggish, and so it can be hard to teach a class or tend to children.
And to top it off, Sunday morning breakfast has recently become our “fun cereal breakfast”: the one time each week we get the sugary kids cereal.
Skipping that breakfast eats me up.
I’ve always believed it served a good purpose though.
Jesus said his disciples couldn’t perform a particular miracles with prayer and fasting. So in some way it attunes your “spiritual senses”.
It requires, and probably enhances, self-control.
It gives me a greater appreciation for the food and drink I get the rest of month.
Making a relatively small sacrifice like this for the less-fortunate is probably also good for the less-fortunate.
So I’ve done it, but never felt like I was especially enjoying it.
So I’ve thought a lot about the following scripture:
Verily, this is fasting and prayer, or in other words, rejoicing and prayer.
Doctrine and Covenants 59:14
I wouldn’t have described my experience of fasting as “rejoicing!”
But over the past few months, I think I’ve started to get it.
It’s “rejoicing” when you’re really focused on getting closer to your Heavenly Father.
That’s why it’s suggested you should have a purpose during your fast. Eg, try to get divine help with a decision, pray for someone who needs help, or try to build your testimony. This is a thing you should try to focus your thoughts and time on, instead of eating and preparing your meals.
Also, fasting makes a bit more sense this way: you take a break from being like Martha who was “careful and troubled about many things”, and instead become more like Mary who “chose the good part” of learning and listening to Jesus’ teachings.
Lastly, a tip my mom suggested, that at first seemed silly but now I think is actually a good idea: every time your stomach gurgles or you think about how hungry you are, take that as a reminder that you’re currently fasting, and remember the purpose you’re fasting for. In this way, going without food is actually helpful for helping you focus on your fast’s purpose.
When I’m fasting like this, instead of just suffering through it, it is actually a pleasant experience. I get renewed perspective, get a break from the rat race, and feel more of the “fruit of the Spirit” that is “joy.”
So as I’ve been successful at really having a spiritual purpose to my fasts, focusing on that purpose and letting my hunger actually serve as a reminder of it, I actually have felt that “fasting and prayer” can be synonymous with “rejoicing and prayer.”