For those of you who don't know what that is, it is a day that we in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints dedicate every month to fasting. We skip two consecutive meals without eating or drinking, and donate the money we would have spent on that food to help the poor. We are encouraged to fast with a purpose in mind, and to begin and end our fast with a special prayer for that specific purpose.
It's a beautiful principle that requires some sacrifice, and after "practice-fasting" for a year (skipping one meal at a time), Jack is now fully fasting.
He's inherited my ability to fast, which means he's not great at it.
I'm kind of a baby when it comes to going hungry.
This last Fast Sunday was rather stressful for our family--Steve was feeling pretty sick, I was hungry, tired, and grumpy, and Calvin was getting four molars and was a BEAR.
(Not literally. That would be weird).
So after a church meeting of me wrestling with a very loud and cranky toddler in the hallway (I can't wait until he's old enough for Nursery), and then an hour of me sitting in Relief Society, trying not to feel guilty when other women were giving advice on how to teach children to avoid contention in the home, I was ready to go home and hopefully sneak in a nap before dinner.
Sometimes I don't have the best attitude about things, and today was one of those days.
On the way home, Jack started really complaining about fasting and how hard it was, and with the recent Relief Society lesson in mind, I bit down my frustration and instead bore my testimony about how the sacrifice of fasting can help others, sharing an experience where we had all fasted for a seriously ill family member who had gotten better.
Clark responded beautifully, asking thoughtful questions and commenting on the story where appropriate.
Jack waited until the split second I was done and immediately started whining again.
By this time, we'd gotten home, so I snapped (Relief Society lesson be darned!), told Jack that he was fasting no matter what, and if he wanted to have a horrible attitude about it, he could go take a NAP, for ALL I CARE.
Writing it out makes me seem a lot more logical and cool-headed than I was, I assure you.
After huffing around to get lunch ready for the other kids (Steve was very helpful during this time, even though he still wasn't feeling well at all), I had the thought persistently come into my mind that we needed help in how to teach this principle to our son, because this most definitely wasn't what you could call teaching in the Savior's way.
As soon as the other kids got settled with lunch, Steve and I went into our room with the door closed and prayed for help. I said the prayer, and I let Heavenly Father know that I was sorry for my horrible attitude, and that we understood the importance of the principle of fasting, but didn't know how to teach it to our son in a way where we honored his agency while also teaching him habits that would help him later on.
A few thoughts came into our minds, my heart calmed down, and we invited a bawling Jack into our room to have a more gentle conversation with him.
This time, the Spirit led me to teach him about where his focus was. I asked him how he felt right now, and he answered, "Angry, sad, mad."
I asked him who he was thinking about, and he responded quietly, "Me."
I pointed out that I, also, was thinking of myself, and so I had been acting cranky all day, as well. I then drew a larger circle around the first circle, and labeled it, "Others."
"How do we feel when we focus on others?" I asked.
Giving the Sunday School answers, Jack answered, "Happy..."
I disagreed. I said, "We don't know how we're going to feel if our focus is on other people, because we put them in control of how we feel and they don't always act in ways that make us feel happy. If we are serving them, then yes, sometimes we feel happy, but if they don't do what we want them to or appreciate us, then we can still feel angry or sad or ignored."
I then drew an even larger circle around the other two, and labeled it, "Christ."
"When we focus on Christ, we can know that we will ALWAYS feel peaceful and happy. Other people will let us down, and we will let ourselves down, but He never will, and when we try to do what He will have us do, He can guide us how to serve others and ourselves in ways that will bring us true joy."
I drew a happy face in the largest circle.
"I know that fasting is HARD. I don't really like it either, if I'm being honest. But it's like exercise--it helps our spirits to learn how to become stronger than our bodies, and when we keep our focus out here in these other circles, remembering why we are fasting, then we can have peace and joy even when we feel hungry."
Steve leaned in at this point and added, "Jack, it's like your Pokemon cards."
Jack perked up, and Steve chuckled, "Yeah, NOW I've got your attention. You know how you have some cards that have a value of 50, but then you can add other cards that takes their value to 100?"
Steve went on: "When we pray, Heavenly Father listens to and answers our prayers. But when we fast with our prayers, it takes the power of our normal prayers from 50 to 100, and makes them even more powerful in behalf of what we need. Today, you're fasting for other people, and every time you feel hungry or thirsty, if you think about those other people that you're fasting for, and say a prayer for them, it's powerful and can help them more than you could otherwise.
"When you fast for other people, you are sacrificing a part of yourself for them, and Heavenly Father honors that. He blesses you and he blesses them."
The conversation went on, with Jack asking some questions and us sharing our testimonies, but the entire feeling of our home changed at this point, and as Jack left our room with a smile on his face, I was filled with gratitude for a gift of guidance that helps me to navigate this thing called parenthood with a wisdom and insight far greater than my own limited resources allow me to have.
The thing about parenthood is that it's never-ending--the demands on your emotional, physical, and mental resources is greater than any one person really can ever live up to perfectly. And when I try to do it on my own, I fail miserably, which happens at least 18.3 trillion times a day. But when I remember that I wasn't asked to do it on my own, that I have a Power greater than myself upon whom I can call, well, that is an encouraging thought to remember, now, isn't it?