Sometimes the last thing we want to hear when a child goes wayward is “Fast and pray for him.” Such counsel seems so “pat,” so “Sunday School.” What we are going through is urgent, so give us a BIG answer!
(Note: This article is adapted from Rescuing Wayward Children. Follow this link to learn more.)
Often we are uncomfortable with our simple gospel. We are forever trying to peel back the layers to discover the inner meaning of things, some secret kernel of truth that is the key to deliverance. For example, we squirm when financial problems crush us and we can’t unearth any other gospel answers besides tithes, offerings and service. Or a child rebels and we can do nothing except fast and pray.
Understanding that we mortals tend to desperately grasp for answers when we feel ourselves spinning out of control, Nephi reminded his brothers that the gospel remedies often arrive in simple packages. Moses’ people refused the simple act of looking upon the brass serpent to save their lives. We are dying here and all you can think to do is ask us to look at a brass snake? It seemed so absurd.
[The Lord] sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished.(1)
Referencing the same event, and possibly concerned that his son did not fall into the same trap, Alma counseled,
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.(2)
That said, let us revisit the easy and simple principles of fasting and prayer and examine them as principles of power.
The Power of Fasting to Rescue
“Gary,” a father from northern Utah, recounted an experience with fasting that led to rescuing his daughter “Pamela.” (The names are changed)
After my divorce, my family splintered. Alternately, my children lived with my ex-wife or with me. My seventeen-year-old daughter, Pam, made a decision to permanently live with her mother, who had left the Church and was excommunicated for adultery. Pam bought into her mother’s anti-LDS propaganda…Pam began to follow her mother’s example of drinking, and she experimented with drugs. I remarried a wonderful woman, and together we began to pray and fast weekly for Pam. Often we would fast and attend the temple. We were in for a long exercise of endurance.
After Pam received her college degree, she left for Europe and eventually hooked up with a man and moved in with him. During these heartbreaking years, we continued to fast, pray, and attend the temple in her behalf. We made the extra effort to stay in touch with Pam and keep her up-to-date on all the family news. At age twenty-six, she moved back to the United States, disillusioned with some of the world views that she had encountered in Europe. Pam had experienced enough of life to know that she wanted nothing to do with the kinds of lifestyles that she had seen, and she had decided that marriage and family were the best way to find happiness and individual fulfillment-the example that we had tried to set for her.
An answer to our fasting and prayer came through our returned-missionary son, “Devin,” who realized that what his sister needed was fellowshipping. Thereafter, Devin and Pam were inseparable. He introduced her to his friends, took her to dances, and constantly hung out with her. He took her to institute and arranged for her to meet with the teacher and ask him questions. The teacher kindly and intelligently fielded her questions about male/female relationships as they pertain to the gospel, and he gave her solid answers that satisfied her.
One of our fasts resulted in a breakthrough-Pam began to read the Book of Mormon. That event gave her a testimony of the gospel, and finally we had our girl back. Today, Pam is thirty years old, active in the Church, dating within a choice group of LDS friends, and praying to find the right young man to take her to the temple. My wife and I believe that the price we paid to fast and pray often, coupled with attending the temple, directly rescued our daughter Pamela and brought her back to us.
A bishop from Idaho recounted a success experience that began with fasting:
I had four wayward boys in my ward, so I called in the parents to counsel and develop a plan. I received mixed responses when I approached the parents to sanctify themselves by fasting then pray for a conversion opportunity to come to their sons. One mother was lukewarm about the idea-too simple-but she agreed to give it a try. For her son, I called a meeting with some men who were influential in the boy’s life: my counselors, the boy’s Young Men leader, his Sunday School teacher, and even his coach at school. I explained the boy’s situation and asked them to join with the mother and me in a fast. Then I asked them to pray and go to the temple to determine what the Lord would have them do to help the boy. A week later we met again and talked about our impressions. Each man had received specific instructions from the Spirit. We set about to do what the Lord had told us, and in a short period of time, the boy ceased his downward slide, repented, and made a full about-face to genuine activity in the Church. Within nine months, he was serving a mission.
What is a Fast?
To fast is to go without food or drink for a dedicated period of time.(3) Fasting is a powerful principle of sanctification, which carries with it specific promises to repair family problems. Fasting and prayer are interconnected. President Benson said,
To make a fast most fruitful, it should be coupled with prayer and meditation . . . and it’s a blessing if one can ponder on the scriptures and the reason for the fast.(4)
Fasting and prayer is a commandment of God;(5) therefore, as Elder Spencer W. Kimball wrote, “Failing to fast is a sin.”(6) Elder Delbert L. Stapley taught that fasting and prayer is a principle of great spiritual power and strength, the opportunity of which summons the blessings of God. Then he made the sad observation that members of the Church are remiss in availing ourselves of this power, which can be employed to bless others.(7)
There is another principle that we should consider: The power of several people united in purpose and faith as they fast and pray. This principle of multiple voices united in prayer and fasting is the power that this wise bishop drew upon to rescue the wayward boy in his ward.
Great blessings flow from fasting and prayer. Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Fasting . . . gives a man a sense of his utter dependence upon the Lord so that he is in a better frame of mind to get in tune with the Spirit.”(8) Moreover, he noted, fasting and prayer increase spirituality, foster devotion and love of God, increase faith, encourage humility and contrition of soul, and hasten us along the path to salvation.(9)
Blessings of the Fast
The prophet Isaiah listed some of the extraordinary blessings that flow from fasting and prayer. As you read these blessings, imagine how fasting and prayer could sanctify and empower you to rescue your children. Fasting and prayer:
Loosens “the bands of wickedness.”
Undoes “heavy burdens.”
Lets “the oppressed go free.”
Breaks “every yoke that binds you.”
Fasting also results in the following:
“Thy light shall break forth as the morning.” [The light of Christ will fill you.]
“Thine health shall spring forth speedily.” [Physical, spiritual and emotional health will return to you quickly.]
“Thy righteousness shall go before thee.” [Your righteousness will prepare the way and ensure your future.]
“Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer.” [Your prayers will become more powerful.]
“Thou shalt cry, and [God] shall say, Here I am.” [Your prayers will become more intimate and meaningful.]
“Thy light shall rise in obscurity, and thy darkness shall be as the noonday.” [The darkness that has been in your life will dissipate.]
“The Lord shall guide thee continually.” [He will never leave you.]
“The Lord shall satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.” [Where you have experienced spiritual and emotional drought and starvation, the Lord will make you like the Garden of Eden.
As you drink from the Living Waters, you will become the same: a spring capable of giving never-ending nourishment to those you love.](10)
Considering these blessings, who would not seek to observe the law of fasting and prayer?
Fasting, Forgiveness and Charity
Furthermore, Isaiah taught that true fasting and prayer necessitates forgiving one another, neither assigning blame nor speaking ill nor clinging to pride to sooth our vanity.(11) Rather, true fasting and prayer draws out our souls in charity, “to [feed] the hungry . . . and satisfy the afflicted soul . . . [to] bring the poor that are cast out to thy house . . . [and] when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him.”(12) Charity, of course, is the gift that we need to feed the spiritually hungry, minister to the afflicted, and rescue the poor and outcast.
These verses could be interpreted as saying that fasting and prayer infuses us with power to draw our children back home, where we can lovingly clothe and cover them in the covenant. President Joseph F. Smith said, “The aim in fasting is to secure perfect purity of heart and simplicity of intention-a fasting unto God in the fullest and deepest sense-for such a fast would be a cure for every practical and intellectual error.”(13)
Becoming a “Repairer of the Breach”
Isaiah counseled, “Hide not thyself from thine own flesh [your own family].”(14) That is, love them, pray for them, and fast for them. We expect the Lord to stand by our children despite their waywardness. Would He not, therefore, expect the same of us? Our willingness to sanctify ourselves through fasting and prayer in behalf of our children, and our continuing to love and reach out to them, serves to repair relationships. Through fasting and prayer we sanctify ourselves to become, according to Isaiah, “the repairer of the breach.”(15) That is, fasting and prayer empowers us to repair anything that has torn the relationship apart.
Concerning our becoming repairers of the breach, Elder Bruce C. Hafen taught that we, through fasting and prayer and applying the Atonement of Jesus Christ, gain power to repair even generational family problems and to stop the “intergenerational flow of affliction,” which plagues one generation of our family after another. These generational problems are often the reasons our children are presently suffering. Some damaging family traits reduce agency and continue to afflict several generations of a family. But by means of the sanctifying principles of faith, fasting, prayer, and diligence, these negative traits can be halted and severed.
Repairers of the breach can seek heavenly power to ensure that those harmful traits will never again distress subsequent generations. Elder Hafen said we can “fill the void left by a former generation and raise a new foundation for the next, thus repairing the breach in the intergenerational linkage: They that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach; the restorer of paths to dwell in.’ (Isa. 58:12)”(16)
Isaiah’s doctrine concerning the fast is astonishing. Generational healing becomes possible. Evidently fasting yields a power that extends to our deceased loved ones, allowing them to be healed and set free. Through focused fasting, we become repairers of the breach to our present families and our ancestors. Moreover, our children– “they that shall be of thee”–will “build the old waste places.” In other words, because of our fasting, our children will also be empowered to repair the generational injuries and help to save their forefathers.
What will be the result?
“Thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations [to follow]”; that is, you will help your children lay a new foundation for their lives upon which salvation will come to them and to those your grandchildren. Therefore, you will be given the honorable name, “repairer of the breach”-the one who helped them overcome their weakness, repair their broken lives, and brought them back to the correct path.(17)
Does the fast still sound too simple, too easy? Perhaps we should reconsider the fast as an incredible principle of power and do as Moses encouraged his people to do: simply look up and live.
Note: This article is adapted from Rescuing Wayward Children. Follow this link to learn more.
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1 1 Nephi 17:41.
2 Alma 37:46.
3 See Joseph Fielding Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 243.
4 Ezra Taft Benson, “Do Not Despair,” Ensign, November 1974.
5 D&C 59:13-14.
6 Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, 98.
7 See Delbert L. Stapley, Conference Report, October 1951, 122.
8 Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, Volume 2, 152.
9 See Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, “Fasting,” 276.
10 Isaiah 58:6-12.
11 See Isaiah 58:9.
12 Isaiah 58:7, 10.
13 Joseph F. Smith, “Observance of Fast Day,” Improvement Era, December 1902, emphasis added.
14 Isaiah 58:8.
15 Isaiah 58:12.
16 Bruce C. Hafen and Marie K. Hafen, The Belonging Heart: The Atonement and Relationships with God and Family Heart, 119.
17 See also John H. Vandenberg, Conference Report, April 1963.