10 New Valuable Ways You Can Fast During Lent
Lent is a sacred season of the Church marked by outward signs, popular rituals, rich symbols and holy days. Our culture is familiar with the start of this holy time on Ash Wednesday. Walking down the city streets where I live, it isn’t uncommon to see ashes on foreheads of the faithful. Perhaps your community has a fish fry on Fridays during Lent. Religious or not, many people know that Catholics are called to fast over a period of 40 days, but this holy practice is only one of three traditional pillars of our Lenten observance.
We are called to pray, fast and give alms in an intentional way during Lent. Why? Because Lent is about conversion—turning our lives more completely over to Christ and his way. Julie Zimmerman writes, “that always involves giving up sin in some form. The goal is not just to abstain from sin for the duration of Lent but to root sin out of our lives forever. Conversion means leaving behind an old way of living and acting in order to embrace new life in Christ.” The practice of prayer, fasting and giving alms can do that in a powerful way.†
Reading about Lent in this way gives me an increased sense of purpose behind how I can and should integrate these practices into my life. And, it can feel like a daunting task and a big responsibility, too. Fortunately, it’s not something we are called to do alone. As a community of faith we can pray with and for one another. We can give to Operation Rice Bowl or add to our Sunday offering. And, we can do much more than fast from treats or cursing. Perhaps what you will decide to fast from something that breeds mistrust or creates disunity. Maybe you will “give up” an action that will in turn leaven the community in which you live or work.
As written by Catholic Relief Services “we fast, or give things up, as a reminder to remove things in our lives that get in the way of our relationship with God. When we feel hungry or choose not to eat the things we like, we are reminded that everything we have is a gift from God.” My hope is that the following suggestions will help you and others see the many gifts from God more clearly.
1. Fast from Noise
In 2008, I "gave up" listening to my iPod while I run for Lent. It was the best thing I've ever done. I turned off the music and turned on the silence. What I have heard over the miles I have logged since is what the Lord has called me to do...who He is calling me to be...how God loves and knows me. It’s hard not to notice that our world is flooded with noise. It’s disguised as music, news, talking, gossip and more. Silence is a rare gift!
David Haas reiterates the words of Isaiah when he sings “I will come to you in the silence…I have called you and you are mine.” Fasting from noise over the course of the 40 days in an intentional and prayerful way can serve as an invitation to hearing God’s word, God’s voice and God’s love.
2. Fast from Gossip
Many of us give up candy for Lent. Pope Francis has urged us to something that isn’t much different: gossip. In the article "The Tyranny of Talk,” the editors of America Magazine quoted the Holy Father who said: “It’s so rotten, gossip.. At the beginning, it seems to be something enjoyable and fun, like a piece of candy. But at the end, it fills the heart with bitterness and also poisons us.”
The editors explain, "It is a harsh judgment, but one that resonates at a time when social media and apps like Snapchat can make gossip go viral—and visual. The verbal bullying of young people, which has periodically attracted widespread attention following tragic teen suicides, is really just gossip by another name. For the pope, there is no difference between scandal and gossip. In fact, gossip may be more insidious because it disguises itself as idle, some would say harmless chatter. What harm can come from talking about someone else when he or she will never find out?
Plenty: 'Those who live judging their neighbor, speaking ill of their neighbor, are hypocrites, because they lack the strength and the courage to look to their own shortcomings.' For Pope Francis, gossip is not only harmful because it tears down our fellow human beings, but because it diverts our attention away from what is most important: our own Christian behavior."
Fasting from gossip requires us to pay attention to our words and our motivation for what we share with others in conversation. We ought to soften our hearts and in turn our tongues, too. A community with less gossip, is one that is more loving, empathetic and caring. It’s Christian.
3. Fast from a Creature Comfort
My San Francisco apartment has central heating. This wonder keeps my entire home warm and toasty. While I turn it on with a sincere appreciation, to be honest, it is often gratuitous. San Francisco doesn’t get as cold as it does in many places; I can easily wear a beanie hat or use an extra blanket to keep comfortable.
Fasting from this “creature comfort” during Lent made me uncomfortable. Every time I went to turn on the heat, I was reminded in a visceral, tangible way of the discomforts many people confront on a daily basis. Of course it reminded me to thank God for a simple gift like heat but it also served as an invitation to pray for those who might not be able to pay their monthly PG&E bill, for those on the street or those who feel cold because of a lack of love and support in their own lives.
4. Fast from Excuses
Perhaps you have heard the expression that “excuses are like belly buttons; everyone has one.” Sometimes, we need to hear why, many times we don’t. “I’m sorry. I messed up. Or, I’m wrong” serve relationships much more effectively. This Lent, consider fasting from excuses.
Reading Tom Verducci's article "Exit Stage Center," I learned that the parents of the legendary short stop Derek Jeter "never permitted Derek to use the word 'can't' around the house. Anything was possible with hard work. There is no doubting whence comes his distaste for negativity."
As a teacher, a coach and a Christian, I believe it's my duty to give people hope. I think it's important to "find a way" when life is challenging. Removing the words "I can't" from our vocabulary is no easy task, but I think it's worth considering. One of my favorite passages of Scripture is "with God all things are possible." On my best days, I know this is true. Other days...not so much. During Lent, I will try to make things possible and when I can’t, I will fast from an excuse.
5. Fast from Complaint
Too often when I don’t want to do something, you will hear about it, and that’s in the form of a complaint. Why do we have to do this? Seriously? Those words can be toxic, polluting the attitudes of those around me. Fasting from complaint calls me to be a solution, rather than contribute to a problem. One of my mentors, and a great coach, Frank Allocco tells his athletes, "rather than complain, work harder." I couldn't agree more.
6. Fast from Busyness
The word “Lent” in Old English refers to spring time. But its roots in Latin— lentitudo -inis f. [slowness]—refer to slowing down. And the meaning behind those words remind me that lent is a time to fast from rushing around and keeping busy.
My colleague believes that “busyness” is the drug of the 21st Century. It keeps us amped up. It distracts us from other, more important things. It can prevent us from hearing God’s voice, listening to the movements of the heart and noticing the beauty of God’s creation. I agree.
It is a badge of honor to be busy. But that does not always translate to abundance. While playing golf a few weeks ago, a friend noticed how two men were taking their time as they unloaded their equipment from their respective carts. They were talking to those assisting them without rushing. I thought of how often I just run from one place to the next; my busyness prevents me from engaging with those who stand in front of me...those who are all too often, my neighbor.
Is it possible for you to slow down and make some time for the Lord during Lent? Fasting from busyness is an invitation to do that.
7. Fast from Expectations
No matter what he did in His public ministry—be it healing the sick, standing in solidarity with the poor or challenging authority, Jesus was always teaching. And for some reason, the parable of the "Cleansing of the Ten Lepers" has offered a lesson that I have never forgotten. It's hard not to, because if you pay attention to human nature, you will see just how true it is. In Luke 17: 11-19, we learn: "As he was entering a village, ten lepers met [him]. They stood at a distance from him and raised their voice, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And when he saw them, he said, 'Go show yourselves to the priests.' As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, 'Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?' Then he said to him, 'Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.'"
A response rate of one in ten isn't very good. Jesus dramatically changed their lives and 90% of them moved on. Further probing into this story reveals that the one who returned to extend gratitude is the least likely of them all—a Samaritan.
Maybe the truth of this parable resonates with you. Too often, we forget to say "thank you” because—well, we expect things from good people. For example, I expect my mom to cook a great meal or that my husband will take out the trash. I expect good gifts from my siblings at Christmas and on my birthday. Why wouldn’t I?
Jesus' lesson serves as a reminder of how we are and how we can be. This Lent, rather than expect gifts or goodness, give thanks. Be the 10%.
8. Fast from Putting Yourself First
Truth and beauty: I find both in the Prayer of St. Francis. He writes “it is in the giving that we receive…and in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
The Christian paradox: It’s so easy to put ourselves first. We’re busy people (see #6), We often want to take the right of way. I truly believe small acts and decisions that put my needs and my wants before those of others can be corrosive. It leads to expectations (see #7) and makes complaints (see #5) when things don’t go my way all too easy.
The simple spiritual exercise of intentionally putting the needs of others to the forefront of my vision, like opening the door for someone, helping a person carry something or letting another driver in before me keep me from being the center of my universe.
9. Fast from Asking God for What You Want
I remember learning how to pray as a child. An acronym—A.C.T.S. helped in that process. When we pray we should offer words to God of: Adoration Contrition
I noticed how often I overlooked the A and the C. I thanked God for my family, friends and opportunities but more often than not my prayers were those of supplication—asking God for what I want.
The truth of the matter is that God wants us to offer these prayers. God’s love and generosity are more than abundant; it’s grace-filled. It’s gratuitous. But, I wanted my relationship with God to deepen and change.
I didn’t want to relate to the Lord as a celestial ATM. I didn’t want it to be all about what I want and what I think I need. I wanted it to be a relationship like those I cherish: one of mutuality, intimacy, and trust. Out of such relationships, we always get more than we need. We might not even need to ask!
10. Fast from Being Ungrateful
Father Jack of "Franciscan Media" writes "Scientists have done research that shows grateful people sleep better, are healthier, less depressed, less stressed and have more positive ways of coping with difficulties." Practicing gratitude and choosing to fast from ingratitude sounds like something that is not only physically healthy but mentally, emotionally and spiritually enriching, too.
I have always believed that Lent need not be about what we give up, but what we gain! Gain light, grow in love, live Lent!