Yesterday I posted some suggestions for how to intensify your prayer life during Lent, which starts next Wednesday. Today I’d like to make some suggestions in the area of fasting.
Fasting, of course, gets the most press during Lent. I think everyone, Catholic or non-Catholic, knows the practice of “giving up” something for Lent. Often it involves some sweet or other small delicacy. These are good ideas, but it is also good to sometimes think “outside the box” so that our fasting does not become routine. Furthermore, I personally think it a good idea to think of how much fasting we can handle, then resolve to do just a little bit more than that for Lent. God is generous with us, and I believe He will reward the heart that strives after Him.
But first we must remember the heart of fasting, and to do this, we look to Jesus:
When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you. (Matthew 6: 16-18)
Fasting is the practice of piety most likely to abused. If we tell everyone about our fasting, we have clearly broken the Lord’s command. However, if we keep it secret, there is the danger that we will have spiritual pride inside, thinking we are “more holy” than others who appear to give up less than we do. The fact is that fasting should only make us humble, as it reminds us how dependent we are.
Now, on to some practical suggestions:
1) Give up TV.
Yes, I know I might be a one-trick pony when it comes to giving up TV, but I can’t overemphasize how helpful it has been to me. I gave up TV for Advent one year and never looked back. So try to give up TV for all of Lent, or, if you don’t think you can do that, give it up a few days a week.
2) No Internet one or two days a week.
I recognize that the Internet has become a vital part of life today (my job, for example, depends on it), so I won’t suggest giving up the Internet completely (although if you can, God bless you). But try to pick a day or two a week in which you completely stay off the web.
3) Complete Fast once a week
The Church asks us to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstain from meat on the Fridays of Lent. Consider fasting as well every Friday. What exactly is “fasting”? I think each person must define it based on their personal situation, but the Church’s overall guideline is good: two very small meals plus one regular meal.
4) No Caffeine
If a large number of people followed this one, I’m sure we would have a lot of cranky people out there by the 2nd week of Lent. But seriously, if you are addicted to caffeine, Lent is a great time to kick the habit. It is not only physically beneficial, but by offering your physical sufferings in union with Christ’s, it can be spiritually beneficial as well.
5) Drink only water
I did this one year, and I found it quite difficult. Make water the only thing you drink during Lent – no soda, no coffee, no orange juice. The reason I liked this one is it is a constant reminder; every day you probably have some non-water drink with a meal or during a break, so limiting yourself to water is a good reminder of the penitential season we are in.