How can we enjoy fasting?

January 3, 2011

Q: How can we enjoy fasting?

Short answer: If fasting is fun for you, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Long answer:

Ok, but seriously.  Fasting is going without something that you want.  Usually food.  Often water also.  (In the Mormon tradition we generally fast from both, usually for 24ish hours).   If you don’t get hungry and thirsty, you’re not fasting.  And chances are you won’t find it enjoyable (enjoying starving yourself is what you might call evolutionarily disfavored).

But just because it’s not fun doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.  Look at how many people throughout the ages have fasted.  Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus: every major world religion has some sort of religious/cultural/ historical aspect that includes purposely starving yourself.  Ramadan.  Lent.  Yom Kippur.  People do it, like so many uncomfortable things (giving birth, watching Eat, Pray, Love) not because they find it enjoyable, but because they find it meaningful.  In the scriptures, fasting is even talked of as a source of joy.

So, how do you find meaning in fasting?  Usually it’s tied to having a purpose.  Gandhi fasted for peace.  Jesus fasted before he started his ministry.  Alma of the Book of Mormon fasted and prayed “many days” to know that God was real.  The discomfort of fasting serves as a link.  A reminder.  A personal communication between you and God and a powerful inner symbol of how much you want what you are fasting for. You should have the reason before you fast, not decide to fast and then be frantically casting about for a reason.

The exception to that last statement, for Mormons at least, is Fast Sunday.  Like the Jewish Yom Kippur or the Muslim Ramadan, Mormons have a special designated time to fast as a group, which is once a month, usually on the first Sabbath.  The day is called Fast Sunday, and during church services, instead of prepared sermons, anyone in the congregation is invited to come to the front and share why they believe.   My guess is that the root of the question “how can we enjoy fasting?” is “how can we find meaning in fasting when our fasting is on a regular schedule?”

Most Mormons I know have some sort of personal reason to fast even on Fast Sunday.  But that’s not required, and in my opinion, it’s not really the point of the day.  Fast Sunday was set up during the early days of the church as a way to take care of the poor.  Everyone went fasted for two meals, and then donated those two meals to the church, which distributed it to the needy.  In our days, though, most of us aren’t living from meal to meal.  We could probably just donate that money to the poor without needing to go without ourselves.  Yet we still fast.  The fast now becomes a symbolic sacrifice and a reminder of our duty to those who are needy

Another source of meaning, like the aforementioned Jewish and Muslim observances, is communal.  There is power and togetherness and beauty in fasting as a faith community, to be part of a whole even if you don’t have a personal reason.  Sometimes I don’t have a reason, but I still fast.  I fast because I’m Mormon and it’s Fast Sunday, and that’s what we’re all doing on Fast Sunday.

I want to open this one up to my fellow Mormons, because finding meaning is pretty personal: any other perspectives on fasting?

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6 Responses to “How can we enjoy fasting?”

  1. Merry

    When you fast, your body is weakened through lack of food and water. Like you said, this physical weakness reminds us of the things that we spiritually lack that we are seaking, and reminds us to petition the Lord for these things. So while we are becoming physically weak we can become stronger spiritually.

  2. Suzy

    I liked your comment that we should have a reason before fasting. Fasting really is more enjoyable if viewed in the way described above- with purpose and to remind ourselves of what is truly important. Often after going without food for the day, I find I am more humble and willing to listen to promptings I receive.
    A good source for more information on fasting is Isaiah 58 where Isaiah lays out the True Law of the Fast.

  3. dani

    Fasting is still something I’m working on, but I had a discussion with some Christian friends a few years ago that really broadened my perspective on how meaningful fasting can be. Two suggestions stood out to me. The pangs of hunger or thirst that we feel while fasting are a reminder of why we’re fasting, and can be used as a reminder to add a prayer to our fast. One woman suggested that whenever she feels hungry while fasting, she offers a prayer. The second suggestion was to use the time normally used for meals for scripture study or meditation. I loved the way these ideas further integrated the absence of food with seeking the presence of the Spirit.

  4. Jan

    I have had times when fasting was enjoyable–when fasting was rejoicing. And I think the key to it is the repetition of a monthly fast. When you fast often enough, your body gets used to it and handles it better and better with each experience. There were times on my mission when I was fasting at least once a week–and it became almost routine. Your body adjusts. I’m not recommending anorexia here, I’m just saying, if you keep the monthly fast, your body can be primed to fast without much effort.

    That is where the rejoicing comes in. Sometimes you really need to fast, when you have a very meaningful reason and you feel power in doing all that you can to show your faith. If you have practiced every month, your hunger doesn’t hinder you and you can focus entirely on fasting as a spiritual experience. It is really powerful and yes, even enjoyable.

  5. Patty

    Hi, I just barley found your site. Are orthodox Bible believing Christians allowed to comment on here? You said in the last portion of your post that it is only open to your fellow Mormons. Are some posts open and some closed?

  6. Thaddeus

    Patty, anyone is welcome to comment, even protestants, Catholics, and Muslims. I think Dave was hoping to get the conversation moving on this article with an invitation to Mormon readers.

    What would you like to add?