The following article originally ran in April 2020 is brought to you by Gospel Day by Day, a community designed to help parents lead home-centered gospel learning. You can find Gospel Day by Day on Instagram here.
Like many of you, my family and I are preparing to fast on Good Friday along with our dear prophet, Russell M. Nelson, pleading “that the present pandemic may be controlled, caregivers protected, the economy strengthened and life normalized.” Fasting can be hard, even for adults, but what about for children? As a child, at least for me, fasting felt nearly impossible. As a parent, I have tried to make fasting a good experience for my children. I don’t know that children will ever look forward to not eating but it is my hope that teaching my children these principles will make this and future fasts a meaningful experience:
1. Leave Room For Error
Heavenly Father knows us and understands our efforts. He doesn’t keep a list of our fasting mistakes; He keeps track of our hearts.
Along with families all over the world, my children and I recently participated in the first global fast, called for by President Nelson, for heavenly help with the COVID-19 global pandemic. We’re not strangers to fasting, but we did try to step up our efforts to wholly participate in mind, body, and spirit. Not too soon after we had started our fast, my twelve-year-old daughter came out of the bathroom distraught. She had taken a drink of water after brushing her teeth and felt like she had ruined our fasting efforts. The next day, toward the end of his fasting time, my nine-year-old son let out a wail. Without thinking, he had eaten a small piece of candy and thought all his fasting was now in vain.
Elder Shane M. Bowen said, “I testify that God is mindful of the fasting and prayers of all of His children, young and old. He loves us. He wants us to return to His presence.” If children falter in their fasting, the best reminder is not a reprimand. Instead, give them the assurance that their Heavenly Father loves them and knows their desires to contribute either to this worldwide, united fasting effort, or to a monthly fast, in the best way they can. Christ is the bridge between our imperfections and our heavenly home and even when we don’t fast perfectly, we can ask for His intercession to help.
2. Your Offering is Sufficient
Even if you can’t fast for a full 24 hours, or you need to drink water, or you need to eat with a medication, your fasting still counts. Help children understand that the Lord will meet us where we are as we try to draw closer to Him and seek His help. President Nelson said in his invitation to fast, “you decide what would constitute a sacrifice for you, as you remember the supreme sacrifice the Savior made for you.” Help children understand that even when fasting as a group, our experiences and spiritual growth through fasting are personal.
3. The Sacrifice Might Not Be Food
A child who can’t fast for two consecutive meals can still feel part of the experience by giving up something else important to them for the fasting time period. As with other gospel principles, fasting is something we learn “line upon line and precept upon precept (2 Nephi 28:30).” For a younger child who isn’t able to fast at all, or a child who isn’t able to prayerfully fast through 24 hours, sacrifices offered of their own free will to help them stay in the spirit of the fast with you. In the Gospel Principles manual, it teaches, “all members who are physically able should fast. We should encourage our children to fast after they have been baptized, but we should never force them.” Trusting that the Lord knows our children can help us as parents to give them agency to choose how they manage their fasting experiences.
4. Prayer and Fasting: Two United Partners
In addition to inviting my children to join in prayer as we begin and end our fast, I also ask them to continually pray for me and others who are fasting. Having a clear collaborative purpose can help them feel the power of united prayer and efforts so they know that when they are ready, they can also make that sacrifice. With our very young children, we can point out what we are doing and why and share the simple explanation that even though our stomachs feel empty, our hearts are inviting the Spirit. President Nelson taught, “A successfully completed period of fasting from food and drink on fast day brings a degree of self-confidence. Fasting is real evidence to oneself and to his maker of gratitude for the gift of health and strength which permits one to be able to fast. Surely this is a great privilege and blessing.” We can be examples for them until our children are able to learn and apply the principle of fasting in their own lives.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave his witness “of a personal, living God.” He promised that ours is a God “who knows our names, hears and answers prayers, and cherishes us eternally as children of His spirit” and “testified that amidst the wondrously complex tasks inherent in the universe, He seeks our individual happiness and safety above all other godly concerns.” The reminder of our Heavenly Father’s love and individualized care can help us, His children of all ages, to be able to fast in faith.