As I thought about this goal, the very first thing that hit me – hard – was how little I think about hunger and thirst. I have experienced relative hunger and thirst in my life (more thirst than hunger), but I have not been desperate for food or drink to the point of concern for my well-being at any point in my life.
I was raised poor, but we never missed meals. My entire life has been just comfortable enough to allow me to be a bit picky – like having the option to choose not to eat or to tell my kids to eat sandwiches or cereal if they don't want to eat what we have prepared. For a few years, I traveled with a company expense account – allowing me to acquire a taste for fine dining in cities across the country. I am somewhat overweight, and part of that simply is because I love food.
In other words, I'm not sure I ever have “hungered and thirsted after” food in a real, powerful, deeply physical sense in my memory. Whenever I feel even a little hungry or thirsty, I am able to satisfy that feeling very quickly and with minimal effort. That was an interesting insight – something I simply haven't contemplated before in the context of this verse.
I wondered how I could learn to hunger and thirst after righteousness when I really didn't know what it feels like to hunger and thirst – certainly not in the same way that those living in the poverty of their time who first heard Jesus' original statement would have understood it – certainly not in the same way that others in this day and age understand it. While contemplating this difference in my life and theirs, I realized that one of the only ways for me to reach even a general inkling of that type of powerful hunger and thirst would be through extended fasting, since that is the only way available for me to experience real, powerful hunger and thirst.
“And blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.”
I remembered learning that feeling hunger and thirst has one, and only one, purpose – to prompt the one who is hungry and thirsty to eat in order to quench that hunger and thirst, thus protecting the body from the damage that inevitably occurs from lack of nourishment. Thus, we feel hunger and thirst when we are in need of physical nourishment and are at risk of physical harm. There is a deep irony – an apparent contradiction – in translating that to our spiritual health, since I was not about to pray for a state of spiritual starvation in order to understand and appreciate better being spiritually nourished. Fasting can induce physical hunger and thirst by depriving the body of food and water, but I wondered how I could induce spiritual hunger and thirst without depriving my spirit of the influence and presence of the Holy Ghost – something I simply do not want to do.
Perhaps fasting could accomplish this to some degree by helping me see what it feels like truly to be hungry and thirsty, thus emphasizing more clearly and understandably the spiritual condition I want to avoid – by making the “threat” of losing the Spirit more real to me as something I want to avoid at all costs.
I then thought of Alma 32:27, which says:
“But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.”
Maybe fasting and prayer and pondering could increase my desire to believe and understand, and maybe “letting that desire work” could produce an even greater desire – a true longing similar to what it feels like to hunger and thirst.
Finally, the footnote for “desire” in this verse references being “teachable” – which generally is synonymous with humility – which is an aspect of being poor in spirit. Perhaps, it takes a recognition of one's nothingness before God – one's spiritual poverty and inability to feed one's self sufficiently – to truly experience spiritual hunger and thirst as commanded by Jesus. Maybe being poor in spirit and meek are necessary precursors to being filled with the Holy Ghost, since such characteristics are exactly what bring about the willingness to accept and follow His promptings when they come – to be filled with the Holy Ghost by actually partaking of His nourishment when it is offered.
After all of this, I still planned on fasting often that month, but I focused my fasting specifically on feeling the sweet and filling nourishment that the Holy Ghost can provide, specifically so that I would desire it more and more – so that I truly would know what it feels like to hunger and thirst after righteousness – to feel true and driving motivation to be “right”, “correct”, “suitable”, “favorable”, etc. before God. I realized that one way to sharpen hunger and thirst is through deprivation – but that another way to do so is to taste something so delicious that the mere memory of that experience makes you hunger and thirst for more.
It was an amazing experience.