16 Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
What struck me first about this passage is that there is NO definition of fasting or guidance regarding the purpose of fasting. In fact, there really is no direct relationship with my actual resolution for this month. Instead, this passage deals strictly with how someone ACTS while fasting - with a reference to how that impacts the RESULT of proper fasting. Therefore, simply to set the stage for why I chose my actual resolution, I want to focus first on the actual message of this passage - then explain why I chose to structure my resolution as I did. Finally, I will add a note about the timing of this resolution, since I have been blown away more than once since I started this process in January 2008 by how the circumstances of my life have reflected a direct need for the exact resolution that was scheduled in advance. (See, for example, Our Father Knows Us Better Than We Realize.) I have felt the Lord's inspiration and guiding hand in this process, and this month is another example of that wonder.
1) The central message of Matthew 6: 16-18 seems to be that fasting is a deeply personal thing, not to be undertaken in public in order to "be seen of men" - that those things that are done for praise will be rewarded by receiving praise from other mortals, not from God. Since we combine fasting and prayer so intimately in our day and age, I automatically think of the admonition to pray in secret, as well - not to pray for public recognition. There is, however, an interesting aspect of Mormon worship that I have never considered previously in light of this passage - that of our communally organized fasts and fast & testimony meetings.
I believe in and support fully the concept of communal fasts and the payment of fast offerings - and the concept of fast and testimony meeting. However, what hit me today is that, in order to internalize this passage and resolution fully, I must move beyond fasting ONLY during these organized fasts and do so at other times on an individual level. I must fast "in secret" as well as in unity with my congregation of saints.
2) I restructured my resolution specifically to be able to focus on the earnestness with which I fast. In all honesty, I have no problem going without food and water for 24 hours - as long as it is not readily available. Fasting has never caused me extreme discomfort, and it has never been a health risk of any kind. Although I love good food, I never have struggled in this regard, but, perhaps because the physical aspect of fasting is so easy for me, I have not learned to fast with the type of sincerity and purpose that I should have by now. I believe that will happen only through more focused, sincere effort.
3) Finally, I have a more obvious reason to fast this month with real intent and earnestness than I have had for some time. Having said that, I understand the irony of blogging about something that is commanded to be done "in secret". Therefore, I will not be sharing any details about the specific purposes or "results" of my fasting this month. Rather, I will focus strictly on what I learn from the process.