Like most of you, I’m guessing, I haven’t always understood or relished the law of the fast. On Fast Sundays as a young girl I hated that hollow, gnawing feeling in my stomach and I passed the time in Sunday school fantasizing about my favorite treats—custard tarts, vanilla slices, lamingtons—always resolving to buy two of each at school the next day. After church, while waiting in the car for my parents to finish talking and drive us home, I’d lie on the backseat, moaning, my fingers pressed against my protruding ribs, absolutely certain that once we got home I’d be too weak to walk into the house and I would be left to starve to death in the car. One Fast Sunday I found my brother, Todd, outside in the backyard, standing underneath our mulberry tree, his lips stained with berry juice. Mulberries aren’t particularly tasty, but they are a food source for starving children, as Todd—who was normally a fruit hater—discovered, and soon we were all asking to go outside and play on Fast Sundays.
In my young adulthood fasting became much easier, of course, but Fast Sunday wasn’t exactly my favorite Sunday of the month. Fasting was something I did more out of duty than devotion, and I admit that as a young mother I was secretly glad for the excuse not to fast whenever I was pregnant or nursing. Yes, I had the occasional meaningful fast, but usually my fasting was pretty rote—give up two meals, try to ignore growling stomach, attend church meetings, say a couple of quick prayers through the day, make big Sunday dinner (mouth watering), and then gratefully break fast—and oh, roast chicken and potatoes never tasted so good.
Of course, my children weren’t enthusiastic fasters, either (do you know any children who are?). In our case, we decided to break our children into full-fledged fasting by having them give up one meal when they turned eight, and then the full two meals when they turned twelve. Still, we’ve had our fair share of moaning, groaning, weakness, grumpiness, and complaining on Fast Sundays. And to be honest, though I know the law of the fast was given to us for our benefit, I don’t think I fully understood or took advantage of that law, and the spiritual benefits that result from keeping it.
Not that I fully understand or take advantage of it now, but I think I’m finally getting closer. I’m not sure when the shift occurred for me, but most months now I find myself actually looking forward to Fast Sundays. I’m learning that there is something truly profound and sanctifying about the simple act of giving up food for twenty-four hours—if I do it purposefully, prayerfully, with an attitude of devotion and love. On those Fast Sundays when I try to put off the natural woman for a time and focus on spiritual things; when my fasting moves beyond the realm of rote and duty and when I truly come hungering before the Lord, seeking, humble, earnest, and yearning, then my fast becomes a feast. And yes, over the years I’ve witnessed some dramatic and direct answers to prayers through fasting, but the real miracles, I’m coming to realize, are the subtle and incremental yet significant changes that occur in me each time I fast with devotion and purpose.
None of this is new or earth shattering, of course, but it feels new and important to me, during a period in my life when I need the extra help and spiritual sustenance that fasting provides. Isaiah described the blessings of fasting best: “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? To loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens?….Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am….And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones; and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not” (Isaiah 58: 6, 9, 11).
It took me forty or so years of Fast Sundays to go from that little girl starving in the backseat of the car and sneaking mulberries in the backyard to a woman who delights in the “fatness” and soul-quenching bounties of fasting.
And it was worth every hunger pain.
Do you struggle with fasting? Have your feelings about fasting changed over the years? What do you do to make your fasts more meaningful? How do you help your children live the law of the fast? Are there any experiences you’ve had with fasting that you’d like to share?