Looking back at past Lents, I can recall doing Whole30, giving up alcohol, giving up sweets, and then there were a couple of years when I didn't up food at all due to pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Lenten Penances and Practices... and Pivots
Pregnancy and breastfeeding are two conditions in which the Church provides an exemption from fasting, but it also excuses “the physically or mentally ill”. If you are reading this and suffer from conditions like diabetes or disordered eating, fasting from food this Lent would be unwise. The Church is looking out for you, and she cares about your health.
Ultimately, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said in his 2009 Lenten Message, the penitential practices of prayer, almsgiving, and fasting are intended “to prepare us to better celebrate Easter and thus experience God’s power.” Lent isn’t about white knuckling your way through a difficult forty days. Lent is “directed to eating the ‘true food,’ which is to do the Father’s will,” just as it says in the Gospel of John 4:34.
There are scriptural roots for fasting and even an ancient liturgical hymn speaks to Lenten fasting with the words:
Utamur ergo parcius, / verbis cibis et potibus, / somno, iocis et arctius / perstemus in custodia
Let us use sparingly words, food and drink, sleep and amusements. May we be more alert in the custody of our senses.
Let’s talk about how we can grow in self-control of our senses, and we’ll start by focusing just on “words” and “amusements”.
“Use Sparingly Words"
Fast From Complaining
During undergrad my roommate and I fasted from complaining. This would have been so much easier if we weren’t spending the Lenten season in the frigidly cold Midwest!
While there were some early morning walks to class that made this Lenten practice challenging, it also altered our mindset. Over time, it almost felt less cold outside because we weren’t spending so much time talking about it. When we did feel cold, it was an opportunity to offer it up and also say a prayer of gratitude for the blessing of the shelter of a warm and heated house.
Fast From Gossip
Sometimes people fast from sugar and caffeine for Lent in the hopes of making a “lifestyle change” which would continue even after the Easter season. Fasting from gossip would be a game-changer if it could carry on beyond just 40 days.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” But what if you used this opportunity of fasting from gossip to give others the benefit of the doubt, and maybe even find a reason to help restore their good reputation and build them back up?
Fast From Interrupting
I am definitely writing directly to myself here. There are too many times when I find myself interjecting my voice as my husband is speaking. It’s not so much a malicious attempt to cut him off as it is impatience to have my own thoughts and voice heard. I know that if I work more intentionally to pause before cutting in I will probably learn more from hearing his complete thoughts, and in addition, be more faithful to my wedding vows by honoring him.
“Use Sparingly Amusements”
Fast From Social Media
This is probably one of the most common Lenten practices that I witness my peers practicing. And for good reason! In Pope Francis’ Message For The 48th World Communications Day he said, “It is not enough to be passersby on the digital highways, simply ‘connected’; connections need to grow into true encounters. We cannot live apart, closed in on ourselves.”
What I love about his message is that, while recognizing the pitfalls that we allow ourselves to fall into through social media use, social media can also provide an opportunity for evangelization. But it must be rightly ordered. A 40-day fast from social media could be a helpful way to re-examine why and how we use social media as well as how we might choose to re-enter into this public-sphere.
Fast From T.V.
Watching a favorite T.V. show together is one of the ways that my husband and I love to relax and spend time together at the end of the day. Even if you aren’t prone to binge-watching television, giving up an episode or two a week can be a sacrifice.
Fortunately, there are other ways to fill up this time, even if it might take some more mental energy. Instead of collapsing onto the couch with remote in hand and eyes glued to the flashing lights of a screen, consider using this time to read, write a letter, pray and journal, or call a friend. Yes, it admittedly takes a little more work, but the payoff is much more rewarding.
Fast From Secular Music/Podcasts/Radio Shows
It can be almost impulsive to reach for my favorite form of audio when I get into my car. After all, a drive provides just the right amount of time to get through a short podcast, a chapter of an audiobook, or an upbeat song for which to raise the volume.
Driving in silence feels almost monastic. This is probably why some of the people I respect the most say that they use their commute time for prayer and contemplation. In the words of Saint Teresa of Calcutta:
The beginning of prayer is silence. If we really want to pray we must first learn to listen, for in the silence of the heart God speaks…we cannot speak unless we have listened, unless we have made that connection with God in the silence of our heart.
How is Jesus asking you to connect with Him this Lent?