Saturday, November 21, 2015


I was just following an interesting discussion on FB that has been deleted, so I can't even catch a screenshot of it.

Someone asked the LDS Homeschoolers (national) facebook group (think: stay at home moms with multiple children who are devout in their faith) a simple question: What do you do for fasting when you are pregnant or nursing?

The ensuing comments were really fascinating to me. They revealed so much--about what people think "fasting" means.

Officially, the church defines fasting as refraining from food and drink, and they ask us to fast for "two meals" once a month and use the money we would have spent on food for those meals to donate to the poor.

Many of the women in the group came down hard (which is why I think the post got deleted) in saying, "NO. You should never fast when pregnant or nursing."  First of all, that violated the first rule of civil discourse for women's groups on social media: Use the word "I" and discuss your own personal experience rather than insist on your answer being the law.  So it was kinda weird to see how many women don't get that. Secondly, it was a reflection of official advice from the church: women who are pregnant or nursing are not expected to fast.

Other women talked about fasting from everything but the bare minimum to stay alive.

Others (including me) talked about changing the amount of time you expect to fast to something healthy for the baby.

I saw, underpinning each of the comments, an interesting thing.  Many people in the church have bought into a cultural impression that "2 meals means 24 hours" (which it doesn't unless you eat in one particular way--only at meals that are always at set times with no snacks ever) and that "fasting" means the monthly fast of "Fast Sunday" and nothing else.

It is so fascinating to me because to me, fasting is a choice you make to abstain from food and drink for a period of time as a way of petitioning Heavenly Father for something. I don't know why it works, but it does.  I think it works to abstain from other things, too, and I find prayer an integral part of the experience. (I always combine fasting and prayer or else I find myself wondering what the difference is between going to church and forgetting breakfast in the chaos of dressing everyone and going to church fasting. I, personally, need the prayer to distinguish fasting from just being hungry.)

Anyway, the different views made a true discussion almost impossible because we were all talking about different things. (Note: this is why at the beginning of any lesson I teach, I define the terms we are talking about. I always start with the question, "What is ______?" so that we all know we're on the same page, or at least are aware of each other's interpretations of the topic.)

Here is why I don't subscribe to the "fasting means 24 hours without food or drink on Fast Sunday" interpretation of the "law of the fast": it is inflexible.

Generally speaking, I find the gospel and the church to be incredibly, unbelievable flexible. Miraculously so, actually. The principles can be applied in any life, despite handicaps and hiccups. The general rules are taught, and the application of them is left up to you.

So, for example, the teaching to fast "for two meals."  For those of us with energy production disorders (like fibro or chronic fatigue) or food-related disorder (like diabetes or hypoglycemia), two meals can mean something vastly different than it does for the average, non-disordered human. When I was on my mission and tried to fast for 12 hours (not even the full 24, as I actually cannot fall asleep--at all--without having just eaten before getting in bed (or even in bed). Apparently that's common for people with fibro) I discovered that I would become not just "hangry" (hungry+angry) but downright cruelly abusive to the people around me. My poor companions. I had to stop trying to fast by other people's rules because that was leading me toward sin, not away from it.  It didn't take me long to realize, though, that I could still fast from 2 meals: I was eating every 2 hours, so I could fast for 4 hours, eat at the end of church, and still get the benefits of fasting.

That's the beauty of the way God has set things up: they work for all of us. The blessings of living the gospel, like the blessings of fasting, are not denied to people because of their disabilities.

(I know you're saying, "But some people never get to get married, and some never get to have babies..."  True. True.  I'm not talking about all blessings that exist, but the blessings of obedience and the blessings of living the gospel, which are different than the idea that each person gets all the good things in existence.  That's not true no matter how we splice it.)

Can pregnant and nursing women fast for 2 full meals according to the traditional meal schedule?  No. It's not healthy for them or baby.

Can they still fast and get the blessings of it?


You just have to remember that the church-wide fast is different from "fasting" as a principle.

You can fast, using the principle, any time for however long you want for any purpose you desire. That means a pregnant woman can fast for 20 minutes if she wants.  Or five. God understands our limitations and what constitutes an actual fast within our own limits.

You can also fast from a particular thing. If you can't go without food and water, perhaps you can fast from all but certain types of simple foods. Or fast from all electronic media, including your cell phone. Or fast from something else that is important to you. That works for a lot of people I know (fasting from everything except bread and water, for example). In Arizona summers, missionaries are not allowed to fast from water. It's too dangerous.

In other words, the real world application of the gospel is flexible and God is okay with that.

You can also participate in the church-wide fast by following the guidelines (notice that they aren't rules--it's not an all-or-nothing proposition on this one):  Fast for 2 meals and donate to the poor. And if 2 meals for you is one hour, that's fine. And if all you can donate is a few cents, go for it. You participated.

And if you can't participate or don't want to or forgot (how many times have I forgotten? Many), there is no punishment for that.

Can a pregnant woman safely fast for 24 hours? No. But I do think it's a shame to tell a pregnant woman, "You can never fast" because what if she is in particular need of something? What if her husband is sick? What if she needs revelation and thinks fasting will help? I have noticed fasting has immense power in my life, and to deny me that for 15 years straight (that's how long I have been pregnant or nursing straight through so far) because of some arbitrary interpretations and rules that have been imposed socially would be a great tragedy.

So the whole discussion left me pondering, again, how bizarre it is that we seem to feel compelled to impose our "version" of righteousness on everyone around us, like a 5 year old tries to force his siblings to obey the rules the way he says to (all my 5 year olds have done this). It's like trying to say "Chocolate is against the Word of Wisdom because it has caffeine in it and caffeine is against the Word of Wisdom" (no, I didn't make that up.)  That might be true for one family, who finds that the Spirit tells them to abstain from chocolate. It's not true for all of us.

It's so fascinating that for people for whom the "rules" have always worked, the idea that anyone would need to bend them is unfathomable.  It's easy to say, "All my way or nothing at all" when you've never been pregnant and needed to fast for someone you love.  It's easy to say, "Never drink caffeine ever" if you've never had a migraine. And, sadly, it's easy to condemn people who don't follow "the rules" the exact way we do.

Is it important to be obedient? Vitally so. But it's also important to notice who we are being obedient to: societal expectations? Or God?

In some ways, it seems, we are all inclined to be like the Pharisees.

1 comment:

morelightthanburden said...

Beautifully spoken!