Saturday, September 22, 2012

I miss knowing that I could heal the world.

A friend of mine recently discovered a tumor. Cancer. Stage III. Very close to her heart and pressing on her lungs. She's scared. Her family is scared.

I'm scared... What if she isn't okay?
And a bit angry... It doesn't seem fair. This is supposed to be a very happy time for her. She's fought hard to be healthy in mind and body. She's worked on creating beautiful friendships and relationships. She is one of the nicest, sweetest, most giving people I know. She deserves to spend the next few years just laughing, and going on fun cruises, and LIVING.

Mostly, I feel sad. And helpless...
(A warning to those who find peace in fasting: If you don't want to hear my sad and cynical point of view, stop reading now.)

I grew up believing in fasting and prayer. Someone got sick, you could pray for them, and if that didn't make them better, you could just go without food, and THAT would make them better. I could do something. I could help. If I just didn't eat AND prayed hard enough, God wouldn't hurt the people I loved. If I could just go without food, everyone would be safe.

That kind of teaching... taken to an extreme... sounds like a perfect recipe for a pretty serious case of anorexia.

Five years ago, I was really struggling with an eating disorder. I met with my Stake President, because I believed he would know how to help me. He told me that I didn't need to go to therapy - I just needed to fast and pray. If I fasted enough, God would cure me. I am glad I hadn't starved ALL of my brain cells yet. I gave him a shocked look and said, "Do you know what an eating disorder IS? I have fasted a lot, and I'm still struggling. If all I had to do was fast, it wouldn't be a struggle.... because fasting is what I WANT to do. I could be wrong, but I don't think fasting is the answer."

He shrugged his shoulders and said, "Well... then I don't know what to tell you. I guess you can TRY therapy, but without the power of fasting... How can God cure you?"

His words played around in my head for a while. They really messed with my brain until I realized I just don't believe that God cares if I go without food or not. It doesn't make him do things for me that he wouldn't have done otherwise. (Like, ya know, God was totally going to let her die, but now, because you haven't eaten for the last twenty-four hours, He's changed His mind. WTF?)

I can go without food for a long time. I get headaches. I get dizzy. I feel sick, but I can ignore all that. I have the ability. It doesn't make me a stronger person. It doesn't make me a better person. It doesn't make me more spiritual.  It doesn't make God do what I want. It doesn't make the world a safer place or a better place. It does make me hungry (and dizzy and sick and eventually numb to the world).

Today... I want that belief back. I want to FEEL like I am doing something to help my friend. I want to believe that I can make a difference...

Reality is, all I can do is love her. Be there to support her in whatever ways SHE needs support. Listen if she wants to talk. Go away if she wants to be alone. Send money. Or food. Or even... if her knowing I was fasting for her made HER feel better, I'd do that too. I trust her, and I trust the doctors that she trusts.

I felt a lot of anxiety when I started writing this post. Somehow, writing the last paragraph, I feel peaceful. Accepting things as they are IS very peaceful.


  1. Obviously I don't believe in fasting anymore, but I know of one bishop that gave a girl I was at CFC with a different spin on fasting. He told her that fasting was about the sacrifice and not about the food. So he encouraged her to give up something else that was hard for her for 24 hours rather than food (because she was sick with anorexia and that was not such a great idea). She ended up making her own personal promise to God to stick with her meal plan 100% rather that fast on fast Sundays.

    Now that being said, sacrificing something may or may not change God's mind about something. I suppose it has to do more with one's interpretation and personal motivation for doing it. Sacrifice could be a wonderful thing for some and completely detrimental to another, as it sounds like it was to you and me.

    I personally believe, that for me, going out and taking action to help someone or to change myself is more beneficial that going 24 hours without food.

    Some people will not like what I am about to say, but that's ok I will own it. Speaking of fasting, it makes me wonder if the blessings people say they receive from doing so are just coincidences attributed to fasting (or any other act of obedience to God's commandments). For example, a couple of years ago, whenever we were in financial trouble and something worked in our favor I attributed it to paying my tithing. Now I do not pay tithing and my husband and I jokingly refer to anything fiscally in our favor as happening "because we paid our tithing." Perhaps we are more keen to look for "proof" when we obey God and I'm not saying it's wrong, just making an observation.

    It seems like in the case when someone is sick, and the person gets better, those in the faith attribute them getting better to prayer, priesthood blessings, fasting, etc., but if the person does not get better then it was simply their time to go. There is always a faith promoting answer.

    It also seems like there is always a faith promoting answer to questions regarding LDS church history. Either a prophet/leader was acting on God's behalf when they were doing something right, but if they did anything that was wrong it was because they were simply a man. Can you be both God's mouth piece and a man vulnerable to Satan's temptations both at the same time?

    Sorry I rambled on a bit there.

    1. The suggestion from the bishop actually makes a lot of sense... only I would change it from "sacrifice" to "mindfulness". For some people going without food for 24 hours would take a lot of focus. If they didn't think about not eating often, they'd eat. And if every time they thought about not eating, they also thought about their sick friend... They'd be paying attention to things they could do FOR that person as well as praying for them.

      And I have made the same observation. People look for the faith promoting answer. I feel just as blessed as I did when I was obedient. As for church history, I don't see how people reconcile it... except that I am very aware that my personal journey has taken me all over the place. Maybe they each had their own crazy personal journeys to go on. (But then, if that's the case, why do people insist I walk THEIR journey for me. Why is it that a person can accept what Joseph Smith did, but not what I do?)

      I like your thoughts - definitely not rambling. :)

  2. I'm in my own personal hell right now but I want you to know what has helped more than all the gold and riches this planet has to offer. I have a friend in Utah and one in Missouri. Anytime I just can't stand it they are my lifelines. I can phone and they will listen or give comments or just be there for me. A gourmet meal, or all the crap money can buy, a home to live in - NONE of this holds a candle to a friend who really is. And I have two of them. How lucky is that?
    I don't give a fig to 'fasting''putting my name in the temple''nightly prayers'. I need to know in my isolation that there is some form of humanity who will answer the phone and say, 'hi'.
    This is a huge factor in trying to heal your own small corner of the world. I believe you're doing it. Be nice to yourself!

    1. Helen - I agree. Knowing there are friends that will just pick up the phone makes ALL the difference in the world.
      The ward once did a fast for me. I wanted to be grateful for it, but I just felt alone... until one girl called me. She said the ward had done a fast, and I hadn't been to church in a while, and she just wanted me to know she cared. Then she told me she wanted to help, but didn't know what to do.
      I didn't feel so alone after that.

      I also hope you get through your hell soon. I'm certain it has been long enough, and you deserve to move on to better things!

  3. Hey Jen, I usually never comment on things and haven't really talked to you in a while, you may not remember me! but was so drawn for some reason to check out your blog and what this was about and wanted to tell you I'll never forget the sweet spirit that you carried when I was at CFC. You are a beautiful person inside and out. Just needed to let you know.

    I believe that god is all loving and good. People in church seem to mis understand what the gospel really is. Its all about love. I know god doesn't give a rats ass about whether youf ast, put name in the prayer role or doing anything like that all he cares about is your happiness. All these things that we are asked to do were never meant to be a ritual of any sort it was promptings when feeling the need too. I know especially in the mormon culture everyone seems to want to be "perfect" and they do all these things and run around stuck in there mind and ego doing these "good things" as a check off the list of being perfect but its empty action when its like that. But Christ taught us to perfect ourselves He promised us that we all could be perfected. And its not far off in the "next life" it was meant to be done in this life and is possible. And its simply by love. Love gets rid every "temptation" as some people call it. When we love ourselves FULLY we have no need to hurt ourself, or others around us which ultimately gets rid of all the "imperfections" and then we can truly serve people and make it a better place. With your friend, you loving and accepting is the best thing you could do. You are a such a star to me simply by making a blog about your thoughts. People can be a reflection of our weaknesses if we humble ourselves enough to see it and then we can turn them into our greatest strengths and by you posting your little thoughts you are allowing others the opportunity to reflect and ponder. you touched me... so Thank you

    P.S if you drawn to these two books read them, they can change your life.
    "Ye are Gods" by annalee Skarin and the "the second comforter" by Denver snuffer

    1. Alexis - LOVE - of course I remember you!!! Just remembering your smile makes me smile. Thank you for your comments. I didn't realize it until I started writing how MUCH I was triggered by all of this, and I didn't realize until I read the comments how much I needed support.

      I completely agree that it's all about LOVE. Loving ourselves, loving others, accepting ourselves and accepting others. I also like your perspective - that we can love perfectly (and be perfected) right here and right now. You're awesome.

      Thank you again. I will definitely check out the books. Love you to pieces.

  4. yikes, that is scary advice from your bishop.

    Something seems very wrong to think that we could control God, especially to think that we can control him be what we eat.

    It is hard though, when there is nothing we can do.

    1. It WAS really scary advice... and even scarier if I had listened.

  5. It is so hard to see those we love suffer. It is even harder to watch our own suffering impact others. For me, fasting has never been about food. I have several health conditions that make fasting unhealthy, and I think anorexia or bulimia would certainly fit into the category of health conditions that mean you should not be fasting.

    I taught a RS on fasting once, and the week before I challenged everyone to eat while they fasted, but to read, pray or sing hymns, for twice as long as they ate. We we started the lesson, I asked everyone how their time fasting had gone. There were people who said it just didn't feel like fasting if they were eating, and others that hadn't had time to read, sing and pray. For those that got over the initial strangeness, the idea of doing something that brought to find the teachings of the Savior was generally helpful.

    Fasting isn't helpful to everyone, and that is okay. If someone wants to come closer to Heavenly Father, then fasting can be a useful tool in bringing your heart and mind to that place. I don't think that fasting itself somehow obligates God to do something, but I do think that it can be a tool if you want to get closer to God.

    I very much hope that you and your friend have the comfort and love of good friends and family. Whether the prayers of my friends obligate God, or simply sends me the positive energy of their love, I know that they help me feel better. I hope both of you can find that as well. :-)

    1. I can totally get behind the idea of something that brings you closer to God. (I define God differently than I once did, but still.) I like your idea of finding whatever works.

      My friend has an awesome family that is very supportive. And I do too. Thank you! :)