In my church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), we observe a practice called fasting. Fasting can be done any time one feels the need, but as a whole, we participate in what we call “Fast Sunday,” which is usually the first Sunday of each month. On Fast Sunday, everyone who is able is encouraged to fast for two meals (generally breakfast and lunch), and keep a prayer in their heart for some blessing they desire (this can be for oneself or for others). Our service is opened up on these Sundays for whomever would like to share their testimony. These Sundays can be very powerful spiritual experiences. Apart from Fast Sunday, fasting is used in individual circumstances, such as when a priesthood holder is desiring to heal someone, for example, or an individual is preparing to receive a special blessing called a Patriarchal Blessing, an important decision needs to be made, or for any other reason where extra faith or special guidance is required.
Today is a Fast Sunday, and I have been thinking about the purpose of fasting. There is a story in the Bible about how Jesus’ disciples were unable to heal someone, and Jesus told them it was because they hadn’t fasted (Mark 9:29). What exactly is it about fasting that promotes healing? Or enhances the power of any prayer for that matter? I believe the reason is because fasting requires more faith. Going without food in hopes of receiving a blessing requires more faith than simply asking for a blessing. It seems like such a small thing, doesn’t it? Just skip a few meals, or even fast for 24 hours…not so hard a thing to ask right? Yet it really is by small and simple things that great things come to pass. I would do anything for healing. I am willing to do some difficult things in order to heal. But to fast once a month? It’s so simple. And yet, I find it a challenge to do this every month. Usually because I forget.
I do also believe that going without food for a bit can help us to rely more on our spiritual selves. I am sure some people receive spiritual insight while they are fasting because it forces them to let go of their physical needs and desires for a moment and focus on the spiritual. I find that for myself, I usually get my answers later, but I am definitely blessed in some way in the weeks after fasting that I don’t think I otherwise would have been. I find that after I’ve fasted, I receive some greater understanding of something, or I find new information I needed, or I’m more motivated to do what I need to do, or some other thing relating to what I had fasted for. My journey toward health began with a lot of prayer and with fasting.
My whole life I’ve been terrible about fasting because it is actually is hard for me to go without food. Skipping two meals is more like skipping four for me because I also snack. Naturally, I didn’t fast while I was pregnant (four years ago) or during the first year of breastfeeding, but since my son started nursing less, I’ve tried to fast here and there. But since I’ve been on this healing journey, I’ve definitely put more effort into trying to do it, and I am certain this is part of the reason I’ve seen so much healing in my body over the last several months. Of course, the food and the supplements and everything have all contributed to my health…but how did I know where to look for good information? How did I find a naturopath that has a special interest in kidney health and encouraged me to improve my digestion? I had searched before, believe me. I had been wanting healing for years and years and years, and it wasn’t until I got serious and began fasting and praying fervently and trying so hard to keep God’s commandments that I finally started making some real progress. This is no coincidence.
Fasting without a purpose is merely starving oneself. But fasting with purposeful prayer can bring about miracles. I really do believe in this.