Fasting for Practice
By Katie Matteson
The struggle between our spirit and our mortal body can sometimes create a weird dichotomy that can be hard to piece together. When we know what we are supposed to do, but our body doesn’t naturally want to respond to that knowledge we foster a dissonance so putrid you can almost smell it from the next room. You can apply this to many discords in life, mine was forgiveness. It took me four-and-a-half years to pinpoint this. It took me four-and-a-half years to truly forgive someone that really hurt me and the practice of fasting made it easy for me once I realized the root of my struggle.
I was such a strange thing on BYU campus; a young, single mom. I was a complete misfit but at the same time, I completely belonged there. I loved mixing secular knowledge with my religion, it was invigorating. I was only 24 and people were usually shocked to know I was this old, let alone divorced and had a son. My peers were usually curious to know what happened when they found out my past. It was really simple, actually. I could usually sum it up in one breath. My husband left me when I was six months pregnant to be with another girl. End of story. It didn’t bother me to talk about it, I’d already forgiven him. I never spoke ill of him. It was nothing I could control because we can’t control other people. I had been a victim of his choice, but I wasn’t bitter. In fact, I had moved on. I was now enjoying my new life as a student, AND a mother.
Yet, whenever I had to speak TO him on the phone, or read an e-mail FROM him my blood would start to boil. Always. It was so odd. It was as if I was cold and shivering, but I wasn’t. I would physically be shaken up like one would get after a car accident.
So, it was no surprise to me, that one afternoon as I was driving home from classes I began to shake from the inside out again. I had just talked to him on the phone. It was a very indifferent conversation really; just the passing of information about our son, nothing more and nothing to be upset about. I was probably letting him know about the sleeve he cut on his sweatshirt at pre-school, or how he decided to wear two different shoes that day and I let him. Perhaps maybe that was the day he learned how to “pump” himself on the swings and his teacher didn’t have to push him. It was a simple, probably happy, exchange of information. Yet there I sat driving, shaking and somewhat flustered at my reaction.
I was quite annoyed because I thought I had already forgiven him. But if I had, why was I feeling like this time and time again?
I started talking to my Heavenly Father out loud.
“Why? Why after 4 years am I still angry? I’ve forgiven him -you know that! I am happy, I am remarried to a WONDERFUL man. I am healthy. Why is my body still so angry?”
I thought about these words as tears flowed down my face. I looked ridiculous driving like this, but I didn’t care. I needed answers about why my body was still reacting the way it was. I couldn’t make it stop even though I absolutely wanted to! Heavenly Father had to know the answer.
It hit me like a red brick, the Holy Ghost screaming the answer to me, “It’s your body!”
“Really? My body was the problem?”
I talked to myself out loud as the answer flowed from my lips. My spirit had already forgiven my ex-husband. My spirit had made peace. However, my body was still trying to protect me, the “fight or flight” response still kicking in every time I heard his voice. My ex-husband had hurt every fiber of my being when he decided to leave, and my body knew that. My well-crafted body was doing all that it could to protect me from him.
You see, we are equipped with a sympathetic nervous system and when a particular stress emerges or is present, our fight or flight response is turned on to the present danger (I had to take physiology twice). Every time I communicated with my ex-husband, it was as if I’d just heard a bear in the forest, or felt a spider on my hand, or saw a mouse in the kitchen. However, this danger had passed. My ex-husband was no longer a threat to me. It was then that I realized my spirit needed to control this next phase of my healing. My spirit needed to calm my body because the reaction was something my body could not control otherwise.
As soon as I realized this an enormous weight was lifted from my shoulders. I felt my body begin to calm because my spirit was stronger.
I was amazed at how immediate the healing took place but knew that it absolutely came so quickly because I had been practicing. A few years back, one of my wise Doctrine and Covenants professors had taught me that fast Sunday was a practice for real life situations. Meaning that when we were faced with temptations so strong that our bodies could not resist, our spirits would be able to take over because we HAD PRACTICED it already. Every first Sunday of the month since he said that, I’d made certain that I was getting my practice. It was the first time I had been able to put it to the test on something that absolutely consumed me. I could immediately feel my saviors love as my spirit demanded that my body forgive someone to whom it didn’t want to forgive. It removed the putrid smell that was festering within and replaced it with a calm, peaceful assurance that all is well.