Saturday, April 4, 2009

Blogging About What Is Commanded To Be Done In Secret

My resolution for April is to fast more fervently, at least weekly during this month. It is taken from Matthew 6: 16-18, which says:

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.
17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.

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.


Jen said... of my great weaknesses....fasting. I am sure this post is another way the Lord is trying to gently persuade me to fast outside of the organized monthly fast, particularly right now in my life. It was only recently that I felt a prompting to focus more on my personal fasting and up to this point I have managed to THINK about it, but do little more than than that. It has always been natural for me to pray and talk a lot to the Lord. Fasting, on the other hand, is a great struggle for me and I don't really even know why. I know that I never got in the habit of it as a child because it didn't really take place in my home by one parent in particular. After that it seemed that being pregnant or nursing was always a good enough reason to not be fasting. So now here I am with the subject of fasting placed before me again.

I am desperate need of help in one particular area of my life right now and I wonder if fasting can and will make a difference. With as much praying as I do, I honestly wonder what difference fasting can make. As I think about this, I realize that I don't really have a testimony of fasting like I wish I did. I don't think I believe it will really make a difference in my life, because I don't necessarily feel it ever has in the past. This is quite a difficult admission to make, because I realize that many have a testimony about fasting and it is not a difficult thing for them to do.

I would really like to know from other's experiences the differences they feel fasting has made in their life. I may sound naive or faithless, but honestly, even though I grew up a member, I've never really gained a testimony of fasting with a purpose and seeing something happen because of it.

Could this be what I am missing that will bring me what I am praying for at this time or is it just desperation on my part?

Christy said...

Nor have you shared with us specifically when you are fasting. Can't type any more today...fasting...weak...hoping for blessings...!

SilverRain said...

For what it's worth, I think there is a difference between sharing what you learn and the effects of the process as you seek to deepen the meaning of your fasts, and the behavior spoken against in scripture.

It is one thing to seek to share spiritual experiences and efforts to strengthen faith. It would be another to blog about how great and wonderful you are for fasting more often or more deeply or better than anyone else.

It is not fasting that the scripture is really talking about, it is pride and hypocrisy. Fasting with a great show of drama is just one example.

As one who has not been able to fast at certain times of life, and has had a hard time rebuilding the habit of fasting after a hiatus, I would be very interested in reading about all aspects of your journey.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a little like the getting on our knees for prayer-it is an act of submission.along with all other acts of submission,i've always found this hard,although I have done it and found great help in knowing that i have done all that the lord asks of me in relation to the desired blessings.When I was a student,looking for accommodation with members in order to give myself the best chance of retaining my testimony during the intellectual trials of study,I was once blessed with a call telling me of available accommodation literally as I broke my fast for that specific purpose.
But now I am unable to fast for health reasons,I feel that I can still show the Lord that I am willing.During periods of fasting,I eat only what I consider necessary and don't allow myself sugar,snacks etc.A small thing I know,but in my fragile and weakened state these things can become very important in life,and actually this requires a great deal from me.It's hard to ever imagine fasting again,and maybe if I can i will account it a blessing.I certainly would regret it now if i had never been able or willing to grapple with this.It's a comfort to know i was once someone who did these things.

Papa D said...

SR, Good points.

Anon, My son has Type I Diabetes, and my wife has been unable to fast at various times in her life. I agree completely that the state of mind (and spirit) is the most important thing - that someone who is unable physically to abstain from food for an extended period of time still can "fast" in the purest spiritual sense of the word. I am coming to realize, however, that not including the physical aspect when one is not limited does not constitute a true "fast". Intellectually, I guess I've known that for years, but I think a deeper, internal understanding can't be gained without the doing of it - as is true of SO many things.

Anonymous said...

Same for me. Fasting is not physically hard for me. Same thing. I have a hard time getting the full benefit of fasting since it is not an effort for me.
When I think of the true spirit of fasting I remember a district leader on my mission. He had decided to "fast" for the missionary work in our district by fasting on...
I don't dare to talk about the sacrifice he made for this was really huge...
...he fasted for three days on MAIL!
Yes! He went for three days without checking his mail.
You served a mission. You know how much this is worse than going without food.
The thing is that going without food is not about starving ourselves but what we do with this free time, how we are supposed to use this free time to turn our heart to God. This sacrifice of mail this Elder did was about showing God how much he was ready to sacrifice for something that meant so much. How much this was above anything else. And considering that what mattered to him at this moment was missionary work I thought it was beautiful.
I am not saying that this is something that we should do in our daily life. What I am saying is that this is the true spirit of fasting and this is what I am working on.
I have the hardest time focusing on spiritual things. I can focus on my purpose though, which is quiet...selfish actually.
This kind of ruin the point in fasting.
So I am like you working on this :)
But it is hard, there are so many things that distract me and catch my attention. *sigh*