There is far too much suffering in the world and with the saturation of media this suffering is constantly in our view. We are regularly bombarded by images of victims of natural disasters, civilians fleeing war zones, immigrants in refugee camps, famine victims without enough to eat, and the homeless living in our own communities.
All of this suffering can leave us depressed and wondering if there is anything we can do to help. Even if you don’t have a lot of resources there is a simple sacrifice almost all of us are capable of making that I believe has the potential to change the world.
I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), commonly called the Mormon Church. We have a practice in our church of monthly fasting and giving that I consider beautiful in its simplicity and yet powerful in its potential to help those that are struggling. And the best thing is that this practice, with only slight modifications, can be practiced by people of any church, or no church at all.
I will first explain our church’s practice of fasting and giving, and then talk about how it could be modified to allow anyone to enjoy many of the benefits of this simple but powerful practice. As a Christian I believe that fasting and prayer also bring spiritual blessings but for this article I will limit my discussion to the physical and psychological benefits of fasting and its potential to help others.
The LDS Practice of Fasting and Giving
The first Sunday of each month is known in the LDS Church as “Fast Sunday”. On this Sunday we are counseled to fast for 24 hours, which in practice means skipping two meals. We are further counseled to donate at least the value of the two meals that we don’t eat to assist the poor. This is called a fast offering.
Fast offerings are given to bishops, who are volunteer lay leaders of local congregations. Bishops, by nature of their responsibilities, are in a position to know the needs of those in their congregations. The bishop has the discretion to use this donated money to assist those who are struggling. This help is meant to be temporary and focuses on the necessities of life including food, shelter, utilities, and medical care.
If a bishop collects more fast offerings than necessary to meet the needs of his congregation the excess is used to help others where needs are greater than the money collected. While everyone is counseled to give at least the value of the two meals they missed those that are able are encouraged to donate many times this amount.
Below is a video produced by NBC News that shows some of the incredible things the church is able to do with the fast offering funds donated by its members:
Speaking of this practice a past leader of the LDS Church, Gordon B. Hinckley, stated:
“It is not a burden to refrain from two meals a month and give the value thereof to assist in caring for the poor. It is, rather, a blessing. Not only will physical benefits flow from the observance of this principle, but spiritual values also. Our program of the fast day and the fast offering is so simple and so beautiful that I cannot understand why people everywhere do not take it up.”
Some of the benefits I have gained from participating in this simple practice of fasting one day a month and donating the money to those that are struggling include:
- Physical Benefits: Medical science has found that periodic fasting has numerous health benefits, and a quick look around shows that most of us wouldn’t suffer much from missing a couple of meals occasionally.
- Increased Compassion and Empathy: The Latin origin of the word compassion means “co-suffering.” Fasting reminds me what it feels like to be hungry by giving me the opportunity to “co-suffer” in a small way with those who don’t have enough. This co-suffering increases my empathy and grows within me the desire to do more for others.
- Abundance Not Required: I have always had enough for my needs but there have been times in my life when I haven’t had much extra. Fasting has allowed me to give to others even in lean times. The beauty of the fast and fast offering is that it provides anyone with the desire to help others the resources to do so – as long as they are willing to make the small sacrifice of skipping a couple of meals.
- A Regular Reminder: Having a designated day each month to fast and give to the poor provides me a regular reminder of my responsibility to help others. Without this reminder I fear that I would forget and not follow through on my commitments.
- Helping Others: While the amount donated by any one person might not be much, working together we can accomplish great things. If you haven’t yet, take a look at the video above to see some of the miraculous things that can be accomplished by many people making small sacrifices.
- Increased Happiness: Many studies have shown that giving away our money makes us happier than spending it on ourselves. I know I feel happy when I see the good that is accomplished by fast offerings. Giving up a couple of meals a month is a small price to pay for increased happiness.
Adopting the Practice in Your Life
If you wish to enjoy these benefits in your life I recommend adopting this simple practice of monthly fasting and giving. Simply pick one day a month in which to fast and donate at least the amount of money saved by not eating to those that are struggling. Possibilities of where to donate the money include:
- Your own church
- Local food banks and homeless shelters
- The Hunger Project (an international aid organization)
- The Red Cross, LDS Humanitarian Aid Fund, or other disaster relief organizations.
- Your personal Micro-Philanthropy or Giving Fund
I believe if this practice were widely adopted we could eliminate most of the hunger and suffering in the world. In saying this I admit that I have no idea if the amount of money donated from fasting would be sufficient to accomplish this but I think that is irrelevant. I believe if everyone did this we would all grow enough in compassion that we would do whatever is necessary to provide relief to those that are suffering.
While I can’t say that I enjoy fasting each month I am grateful for the opportunity this practice gives me to regularly humble myself and contribute to the well-being of others. This simple but powerful practice is a small sacrifice with the potential to change the world. I invite everyone to consider making it part of your lives.