Fasting, for Christians, is an ancient practice spanning thousands of years. It’s a way to train our bodies, subdue our desires, and seek out God. Christians also fast as a form of prayer and penance. You don’t have to be religious to fast, and it can be a good practice to help simplify your life and reset your priorities.
Lent has always been a time of fast and abstinence from luxuries, a time to reset our minds and hearts on God and away from the things of this world. Lent is the 40 days before Easter Sunday, and starts on Ash Wednesday.
Just as Christ fasted for 40 days to prepare for His public ministry*, just as Moses and the Israelites wandered for 40 years in the desert to prepare to enter the Holy Land**, we fast and draw back for the 40 days before Easter to prepare for Resurrection.
Lent will be upon us soon. Easter is early this year, and Ash Wednesday is just two weeks away. Catholics have always fasted during Lent, though the rules and disciplines have varied in different times and places. In America, adult Catholics must fast from meals on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (eat two snacks and a meal, rather than 3 full meals), and abstain from meat and meat products on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays during Lent. Many choose to fast daily throughout Lent.
Christian fasting isn’t always appropriate for everyone. There are those who cannot fast in the traditional sense for health reasons- they are growing children, pregnant women, diabetics, or have other reasons why they must eat. God doesn’t want us to harm our health and doesn’t require us to fast in a way that damages our bodies.
What can you do if you can’t fast, but wish to unite yourself with the rest of the Church in prayer and fasting? Substitute another fast instead. Fasting is much more than living on bread and water. The purpose of fasting is really to divorce our minds from the fleeting things of the world and cast our eyes upward, onto the things of God.
How does fasting fit in with old fashioned thrift? Traditionally, fasting was more than just “not eating”. The amount of money that would have been spent on meals would be instead given to the poor. Almsgiving – helping the poor – went hand in hand with fasting. This tradition is carried on through Operation Rice Bowl and other organizations. Even if you don’t fast, consider cutting your grocery bill or forgoing restaurant meals and give some of those savings away to charity. Old fashioned thrift was generous to the less fortunate.
Simple Fasts for When You Must Eat
1. Fast from a bad habit. Is there a character flaw you want to work on? Try consciously fasting from your bad habit for 40 days. Yes, it will be hard. It’s a fast! Pledge to stop yelling up the stairs, biting your nails, or even fast from controlling the remote.
2. Fast from treats. Fat Tuesday got its name because in older times, Lenten fasts involved no sugar, no eggs, and no butter, among other things. So the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, everyone would feast in order to clear out the rich foods and treats before the Wednesday fast. Eastern Orthodox Catholics still participate in a very strict fast during Lent. While the rules are relaxed for modern Americans, you can choose to fast from treats. Give up chocolate, sodas, or even your favorite cereal.
3. Give up coffee. A lot of moms live off coffee, and can barely make it through the day without a cup (or three.) Give up coffee, caffeine, or your other crutches that you lean on to get things done. You might find yourself leaning on prayer instead. Not ready to give up coffee altogether? Give up using creamer, or fast from buying coffee outside of the house instead. What matters is you are sacrificing something important for penance and to grow closer to Christ. Use your latte savings to prudently grow your emergecy fund, donate to local food pantries, or support a cause at your church.
4. Take a break from social media. We are flooded with status updates, breaking news, funny memes, and celebrity news all day. Taking a break from social media- or even the internet altogether- can give you a new perspective and much needed peace. Give up Facebook and you might find yourself less anxious, more content, and calmer. Really, if there’s an emergency people will text or call you!
5. Go TV Free. Give up cable (and save a bundle) or turn off the TV altogether for 40 days. You will survive and might even discover new hobbies you love. Busy moms often rely on kid’s favorite programs and educational shows to help fill in the gaps when we need to get something done and need to get it done quick (and without little kids help). Giving up TV in our culture is a real sacrifice but you will likely be better off for it spiritually and physically. You might even find new hobbies! Worried the kids will have cabin fever and cry from boredom? Check out my Pinterest board for TV Free activities.
6. Sacrifice Yourself. Instead of taking away, fast by doing more. Is there something you can do for your family or community that is an unexpected kindness? Maybe that means taking over a chore your spouse dreads, an every day kindness such as letting them choose the entertainment for the month or getting up early and having coffee ready to go. Sacrifice your “me” time and cheerfully volunteer for that class party you always dread, give volunteer time to charity, or just do the boring, thankless tasks you’ve been avoiding without complaint.
7. Feed your soul with books. Give up some free time to read books that will help you grow spiritually. The Bible is a natural fit- is now the time to really develop the habit of reading every day? Here’s a plan to Read the Gospels in 40 Days. Some other of my favorite books that will grow and stretch your relationship with Christ: Radical, by David Platt; No Greater Love, by Bl. Mother Theresa; Finding God’s Will for You, by St. Francis de Sales, and Journey Toward Easter, by Pope Benedict XVI.
Above all, be encouraged. God sees you in your mess and He knows the circumstances of your life. If you can’t fast, pray more. May your Lenten journey be blessed!
Questions about Lent, fasting, or just need some support? Let me know in the comments!
*Matthew 4:1-11 **Deuteronomy 1:1-6
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