My son is just a few months away from his 12th birthday. That awesome stage in church-going when he’s not quite old enough to be a deacon and scout and he feels way too old to be singing primary songs and giving 2 minute talks to 7 year olds. Heaven help us if there’s a primary program planned during those few months. Everyone goes through this stage. I did when I was that age, my oldest daughter did last year, and I anticipate my other two younger kids will go through it too. It’s that magical age when Sunday mornings are a total drag and they ask, probably for the first, but not last, time, “Why do I even have to go?”
What makes this morning different was that I was actually asking myself a very similar question. After feeling exhausted from a night of tossing and turning to the not-so-white noise of my husband’s snoring, I was staring down another long day of being in primary. What I wanted more than anything else was some chocolate. Something to pick me up and get me going so I can pretend that I just love that I’ve been called into primary for the umpteenth time. Maybe this time will be the time I fake it so well I actually make it. But it’s Fast Sunday. No breakfast, and certainly no chocolate.
So, I started to ask myself, “Why? Why am I fasting? I don’t have a real reason this time. I didn’t start the night before, or open it with a prayer. I’m literally just going hungry. And while I’m here, why do I ever fast on Fast Sundays? I’m not the type to schedule my worship or pencil in my devotion. I’ve had many meaningful fasts, but not a single one has ever been on a Fast Sunday. Why do I do this to myself? Why do I weaken my body before I go and do something I just happen to find extremely tiring and difficult? I don’t even have a good reason.”
Halloween was just a few nights ago, so there’s plenty of chocolate to choose from. I made my choice wisely and enjoyed every moment. I may or may not have enjoyed that moment twice, after all, we have a lot of candy hanging around the house right now. Then I had a thought so clear and definite that I actually said it outloud, even though no one was listening. “Because other people might be fasting for something that’s really important to them, and when you fast too you’re adding your power to theirs and there are blessings of peace and comfort for everyone.”
Then everything became more clear to me. Honestly, it’s amazing what a quick shot of sugar can do to lift one’s bad mood. (No, I’m not advocating dosing oneself with sugar all the time, maybe just on the occasional Sunday morning. Nor am I claiming that chocolate can open the windows of heaven, though I’m also not denying it.) Everything we do in the church is to bring us closer to God. Period. He just wants to see us exalted because he knows from personal experience that it’s totally the best thing ever in the universe. He reaches down to us as often as he can, like a hen gathers her chicks. And we reach back.
Most of the time we reach subconsciously, like when we seek for positive friendships, enjoy being out in nature, or laugh at a genuinely funny joke. We are reaching for goodness, purity, and light. Everything that God is. Because it’s in our divine nature to want those things and to feel better in their company. We seek after those things, those moments that cleanse us and bring us joy, if only fleeting. Our strongest subscious craving is to feel God’s presence. Yes, even stronger than chocolate.
Other times we go out of our way and reach with purpose, like when we read our scriptures, say our prayers, attend the temple, go to church, and fast. These are the token Sunday School answers for a reason. They work. He has promised that where there are two or more gathered in his name, there will he be also. We know that, and we feel it in our souls, if not in our minds and hearts, when we go to church and when we fast on a Fast Sunday. There is power in unity. God has promised us.
Next time, I’m going to fast. Maybe I won’t have anything specific I feel to fast for, but I’m going to do it, because I know that on that morning there are literally millions of other people also fasting and seeking the face of God. And if I can just be present in that collective moment of God-searching I know I will find him. I’ll knock and he’ll open. We’ll ask together, and the whole community of Christ will receive together. I, in my small way, will get to add to the power of heaven which will descend upon those of my brothers and sisters that need it the most. What a beautiful event to be a part of.
And next time, when one of my pre-teens asks me why they have to go to church, I’ll have a better answer for them. I’ll teach them Christ’s promise that he will be with us when we gather. I’ll teach them that this life is all about repentance, which is literally just turning to God, and what better way to do that than to reach for him in all the ways we can. Just reach for him whenever and however we can, because he is reaching for us and has so much to show us. Maybe we’ll work on doing it with a cheerful countenance later, but for now, just show up. O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us. The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever (Alma 37:46).