Monday, January 9, 2012

Slow Sunday: The impact of the fast

As my wife and I discussed who we might include in our fast this past weekend, we were a little surprised at the length of the list of family members who have particular needs, ranging from children with employment concerns to extended family members with serious diagnoses. It caused me to reflect on our practice of fasting.

The law of the fast is well explained in Isaiah 58:

Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: 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 (v. 5-11).

This description comes in answer to the question why the Lord does not recognize the fast of the Israelites (and smite their enemies), and the answer is that they are fasting wrong.

Our practice is to fast when we seek specific guidance (a newly called president might fast for inspiration in recommending counselors) or specific blessings (as in fasting for the health of someone who is sick, or for one’s own employment). I remember being taught as a child that fasting would be easier if I were fasting for something (when we used to say, only half-joking, that it would be better called "Slow Sunday" instead of Fast Sunday).

I’ll admit it: fasting has never come easily to me, natural man that I am, but I have learned to do it. I really learned to fast on my mission, where – contrary to standard policy, but with permission – our mission president urged us to fast once a week. He often reminded us, however, that the weekly fast was unique for our mission, and that when we returned home, he would recommend we make use of the monthly fast day. He also taught us that it was appropriate to fast for multiple concerns in one fast.

I thought about that teaching as I considered my list of people I was including in my fast yesterday.

The blessings promised by the Lord through Isaiah include personal blessings of health and prosperity (contingent upon our caring for the poor), but also that the Lord will answer our call. That is my hope and prayer as I consider those I love for whom I fasted yesterday. I am also aware that they will make their own choices and that blessings they receive are also contingent upon their faith.

I do not pretend to understand the cosmic accounting that measures my faith and the faith of others together with the Lord’s will. But I am grateful for his promise in Isaiah, and for the opportunity to lend my faith in their behalf.


  1. I have grown to really enjoy Fast Sunday. Years ago I was taught "Fasting without a purpose or prayer is just going hungry". I believe that to be true.

  2. Like so many things in the gospel, we learn to fast by doing it. My mission experience of fasting weekly (instead of weakly) made a huge difference in my life.

    As much as the physical elements of fasting still bother me, the spiritual benefits are real and far outweigh the discomfort.

  3. Here's my take on fasting: