Fasting is an indispensable part of the spiritual life during the entire liturgical year, but most especially during Lent when it is emphasized as a universal prescription for all Catholics.
When we fast we follow Jesus out into the desert. We fight the devil and temper the flesh. In order to do this the Church lays out universal fasting norms for everybody. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, all Catholics over the age of fourteen abstain from meat, and those over the age of seventeen and under sixty fast. (That is, they limit themselves to one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal.) Then, every Friday is a day of abstinence from meat.
Along with that, all Catholics are encouraged to take up personal habits of fasting, (along with prayer and almsgiving,) in ways that are tailored to their own attachments, personalities, and states of life.
Reasons to Fast
Let’s note that while shaking off sinful habits is in keeping with the repentant spirit of Lent, giving up something sinful isn’t the same as a fast. Fasting is withholding something good, for a time, so that we can depend more fully on God. Eventually a fast is broken, and the thing we have fasted from can help us to rejoice in God’s glory when it is reintroduced into our lives. That first bit of chocolate on Easter morning, or something like that, is all the sweeter.
Giving up swearing, for example, is a great idea, but it isn’t a fast. It would be pretty ridiculous to go back to dropping F bombs at Easter dinner. By all means, clean up your language, but keep it clean after Lent. (Just had to get that off my chest. When I ask students what they are giving up for Lent their most frequent answer is often something like swearing.)
The other cliché is usually giving up chocolate or soft drinks. While neither of these are bad ideas, there might be some more creative and productive fasts to consider. Before we list some creative ideas let’s ask this question: Why fast in the first place? Here are seven reasons:
- Fasting offers spiritual sacrifice in solidarity with Jesus himself (Matthew 4:1-11).
- It can help us grow in discipline and therefore virtue.
- Fasting brings us into solidarity with the poor.
- It helps us to subordinate created goods to the creator.
- Along with almsgiving and prayer, fasting trains us to be self-gift (love).
- Fasting, along with prayer, is a powerful mode of penance and supplication.
- When we fail at it, fasting reminds us that we are in need of redemption.
Here Are the 25 Things
So with all that in mind, what should we fast from? Once we understand why we fast we can get pretty creative about. What could I give up that would help me attain the goals above? I asked friends, family, and colleagues what some of their most quirky and creative fasts were and received some interesting answers. So here are twenty-five ideas, some from people I talked to and a few from my own experience. Try any or all of them if you’d like. Or, maybe these will help you think of your own creative fast.
Actually, quite a few people mentioned this one. I think it’s because Target is a happy place for many. The aesthetic, the layout, the whole vibe. A few people mentioned that they banished themselves to other stores with a more penitential vibe until Easter.
2. Hot Showers
Not for the faint of heart, this is a form of mortification that is sure to wake you the heck up. (Just don’t give up bathing altogether. See Matthew 6:17.)
When I tried this one Lent my spiritual director reminded me that my penance wasn’t supposed to cause suffering for others. Still, it might work for you.
4. Cream and sugar
So maybe giving up coffee sounds like a bit much, but what about drinking it black? This was my solution when my spiritual director handed me a cup of coffee for the good of the whole community.
Say goodbye to ketchup, mustard, mayo, hot sauce, salt, pepper. This can simplify meals and be a powerful reminder in the spirit of fasting.
6. Car audio
This one has been a surprisingly difficult and meaningful fast for me going back several Lents. I was surprised by how difficult it was and also surprised at how it drew me into prayer when driving alone, and into meaningful conversation while traveling with passengers.
7. Social Media
Yup. You’ve thought about it and it isn’t a bad idea at all. You could go cold turkey, simply delete apps from your phone, or even give up specific platforms.
Free up some time for prayer or even try out one of the new reading platforms called … books.
9. Diet Coke
I don’t get this, but an overwhelming number of people confess to being Diet Coke addicts and said that they gave it up during Lent.
10. The Snooze Button
Start your days during Lent with a heroic moment. When you hear your alarm the first time, get out of bed, turn it off, and start moving. You’d be surprised by how much you can actually get done in those groggy first minutes of the day. Give it a try.
11. Comfy Bedding or Even Your Bed
Cut down to one pillow, remove the comfy blanket or even commit to sleeping on the floor for Lent. (If the floor sounds like a good place to sleep and you aren’t married, maybe think about a religious vocation.)
12. All Meat or Red Meat
Go meatless. Our Orthodox brothers and sisters do this during Lent. Sound like too much? Or possibly a burden to whoever does the cooking in your family? What about simply giving up red meat?
13. Your Reflection
This suggestion came from a teenage girl. She noticed that she looked at herself almost compulsively so she covered her bathroom mirror, spent Lent trying to see others while worrying less about her own appearance.
This also came from a teenage student. Go natural during Lent. Might do wonders.
15. Lenten Wardrobe
On Ash Wednesday pick three or four simple outfits and rotate them during the Lenten season. This one is also a fast that can temper vanity.
16. A Rotating Fast
Forty days is a long long time. Since you prescribe your own Lenten fast, you could consider rotating from week to week. For example, week one you might give up soft drinks and week two might be car audio, and so on. You could make this one progressive and continue the fast from week one throughout Lent while adding a new one each week.
17. An Oatmeal Fast
Back to dietary ideas. This idea is to simply limit a meal a day, or two or three meals a day, to something simple like oatmeal and peanut butter.
18. Your Comfy Chair
Do you have a spot that you go to at night to vedge? Head to the kitchen table with a book or a rosary to unwind instead.
19. The Water Fast
Several people described the practice of drinking only water during Lent. No soft drinks, no beer, no coffee. It’s not only an exercise in will power; it’s also a healthy choice.
20. Workout Audio
If you are in the habit of running or lifting or ellipticals, try silence or a guided audio Rosary and save the tunes for the empty tomb.
21. Dock Your Phone
For many of us our phones have become a pretty tightly gripped attachment. For the season of Lent dock your phone in a remote place when you get home, or to work, so you can avoid scrolling and checking. In other words, treat your phone the way they used to treat stationary phones back in ancient times.
22. A Random Food Item that Would Only Make Sense to You
Many people give up a food item that makes sense in their world, but seems odd to everyone else; specific things like ranch dressing, pickles, Eggo waffles, or cheese. Maybe you have some quirky food item that would be a good fast?
23. Control of the Remote (Control)
For the season of Lent let others in your home pick what’s on. If what’s being watched is an issue in your situation, let go of your opinion until Easter. You might actually enjoy Paw Patrol, or Downton Abbey, or whatever the other people in your home want to watch.
Get yourself some hot tea until Easter, or even give up some specific favorite drink. Some people got specific about beer, others wine, others went full teetotaler until Easter.
25. Excessive Noise & Distractions
What about making Lent a time of intentional silence? This could take a few different forms. It might involve some the other suggestions above, but could also include seeking out quiet places, listening far more than speaking, and shutting screens and audio devices out of your life as much as possible. Why not adopt a spirit of silence this Lent?
If you have any other clever ideas on what to give up for Lent this year, mention them in the comments below. We could all use ideas on how to make our relationship with God stronger.
Featured photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
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Lent Week 1 – Battling for Peace
What Should I Do for Lent? QUIZ
Picking a Thing for Lent
About Colin MacIver
Colin MacIver teaches theology and has served as the religion department chair and campus ministry coordinator at St. Scholastica Academy in Covington, Louisiana. He is the author of the guide to Quick Catholic Lessons with Fr. Mike. He and his wife, Aimee, are co-authors and presenters of Theology of the Body for Teens Middle School Edition. They are also co-authors of the Power and Grace Guidebook, and the Chosen Parent’s and Sponsor’s Guides.
Go to Mass or Adoration on lunch break instead of the phone.
The list reminds me of a billboard I read 20 years ago in Baton Rouge, LA: “Please don’t give up Zapps for Lent.” Zapps was a local potato chip company.
I am trying to let Him increase as I decrease. John 3:30. Thanks for the wonderful reflection.
That’s funny! I’m from the Baton Rouge area.
Add going to a weekday Mass once a week.
I’m sorry to tell you this this is an almost good list but not a very good list . Removed recently and I did not buy a TV after I last one broke and the other last one I sent to the military God knows what they did with it I have an inkling of knowing what they did with it but I am giving up TV until the summer that should do it till next lent
The weirdest I heard of was giving up scratching itches.
I don’t like wearing jewelry, especially at night. So, I added wearing a scapular for the entirety of lent.
Actually a Scapular I isn’t a piece of Jewelry, but is a direct form of Prayer and Faith as well as Honouring our Blessed Mother’s Request. The person wearing the Scapular properly should be Enrolled into it through a Specific Prayer of Devotion led by a Priest or a Deacon. The Scapular should be Blessed and then Always worn. I take mine off and hang it on the door knob when having a Shower. It’s the last piece of Garment I remove and the First Garment I put back on when exiting the Shower. It’s Very Powerful. An outward Sign you are a Child of God and Mary is our one and Only Spiritual Mother. She in turn will always be by your side and is a Heavenly Intercessor for us in both Life and especially at our Death. There are many different Scapulars out there, but the Original is from Our Lady of Mount Carmel. That’s the Brown one. Good for you, I Hope you will be drawn to wearing that Always. If you’re not enrolled in the Brown Scapular of our Lady if Mt. Carmel, I strongly suggest you find out about it. And it means So Much to Our Blessed Mother..”Whosoever Dies Wearing this Garment, They Shall Not Suffer the Eternal Fires of Hell”. Our Blessed Mother’s own Promise to Saint Simon Stock. God Bless your Lent👌😊 -Joe H. Ajax, Ont. Canada-KofC.
My sister and I loved to go Dutch treat to our fav Mexican restaurant weekly. One year we gave up going and the money we saved was sent to charity.
I just came across this and did a double take, because my maiden name was Judy King! 🙂
Loved this article!…
One year at university I gave up makeup for lent. It changed my self image for the better forever, as I began to realize that God had created me beautiful exactly as I was – and that I no longer needed to spend 40 minutes every morning “making up” for my perceived lacks. 5 or 6 years later, I only wear it for a major feast day or a date night with my husband.
Oh my gosh!! My name is also Grace, but it traslates to Eun-hae in Korean, but I was thinking about giving up makeup for lent as well!! And I think I should after reading your comment! ☺️
Not sure what to do for Lent?
Each day put a closet/clothing article into a bag; at end of Lent donate the 40 items to Good will or St. Vincent de Paul. Nothing that’s worn out, stained, etc. Things one would/could wear but donating. Do NOT remove an item once it’s in the bag. I got this idea from a Christian site on FB.
I really love this idea!
I gave up saying I was tired one year, and it made me less tired because I wasn’t constantly reinforcing how exhausted I was to other people. I was happier and my thoughts were less negative.
Give up close parking spots. It’s good for the person that gets that close spot in your place, you get a bit more exercise, and you have time to pray a Hail Mary or two on your way in.
One year I gave up purchasing! Could buy nothing but essentials like groceries and meds.
I was just thinking of doing that! Plants are on that list too.
Something that seems silly but, There was always a question of, who left a empty toilet paper roller?
I decided for lent I would make sure no one would find it empty again. That was about 20 years ago, something I still keep a check on it.
It was very useful it gave me a lot of useful ideas
Every time I started to make a judgement about someone I saw, i.e., purple hair?!, clothes too tight, …, I would say a Glory Be and apologize to God on the spot.
Oh, I like that! I hate that I can be so judgmental.
Fasting from speaking unless spoken to. More silence. This was Fr. Huy’s idea years ago.
One year I gave up exceeding the speed limit for lent. Where I live almost everyone considers it socially acceptable to drive 5-10 mph over the limit. I decided to purposely slow down and not exceed the posted limit. This was harder than I thought it would be as people whizzed by me. I got the idea from reflecting on the 5th commandment in RCIA.
Instead of giving up “things” I try to add an extra something like an extra mass a week or spend time in adoration. That works better for me.
My fasting has been quite varied through the years. I’ve given up Netflix, facebook, instagram, parties, happy hours, restaurants, even using bad/ugly/swear words. I have also added daily mass, adoration, Catholic books, movies of saints, just learning more about my Catholic faith to live it by imitating Our Lord. This year I think I’ll give up judging and will take reading the Bible daily.
We give up anything on TV that is not religious. We only watch programs on Formed, EWTN, Ascension and other channels like this.
I gave up TV,my candy crush games,willy Wonka’s world of candy games.have daily Masses online,maybe this Lent and onwards,at least 3 Divine Mercy Chaplets daily while doing chores……to lessen time to idle talk or thinking…..and offer it along with friends’ prayer intentions….
I give up fish products for Lent. It proves to be quite a challenge when surrounded with all the Lenten Fish Frys out there. Instead, I give the money I would have spent on those deals to a charity. Of course, Fridays are the toughest which adds to the sacrifice.
One year I listened to Christian music on the car radio only and have never gone back😊
I did too, now I only listen to Catholic talk radio, and my favorite Christian contemporary station, K-LOVE!
Bread – I have given up bread for Lent several times and it is a true sacrifice for me.
I become closer to God by attending Mass everyday during Lent. My faith rises as well as my peace and fasting. I pray more and talk to God more. All the alms I put away until the end and what I’ve saved I give to families in need for their Easter celebration.
Eating out for work lunches. Took my lunch from home during Lent and donated the money would have spent to my church’s food pantry.
One year I found myself complaining far too often, so I decided to live each day with an uncomfortably sized pebble in my shoe–and couldn’t tell anyone about it. It was a great way to cull my bad habit, find gratitude in my daily life, and meditate on “take up your cross,” even if it was just a teeny baby step of “endure a very mild discomfort for 40 days.”
I decided this year for Lent – being my first as a non-Catholic (but Catholic in my heart – will be converting hopefully next year) – that I would add the Stations of the Cross to my daily prayers for every friday during Lent. I am also doing a Lent daily devotional instead of my normal daily devotionals.
Did you convert? 😀
This was very good for most people, especially the younger generation I would say.
I’m the older generation and really it’s funny because I do a lot of this already in my normal life.
Most of it is for health reasons, but I have been boycotting Target ever since they became crazy.
I never drink things other than water. Ha ha I have chronic illness too which helps me stay the course.
So I naturally have things going on because my life is harder anyway. I use a cane too.
So this is for a good plan for healthy people that don’t have any severe issues at the moment.
But I can guarantee you that Lent can be every day of my life!
But I am happy, and I love people and I love my family, my life.
Perhaps for me I will be into more adoration and more daily mass attendance.
Thank you guys good job.
When we are healthy, and everything is going well, we take it for granted, so it is good to remove some easy things in our life to get us ready for when things aren’t so good.
Just look at the lives of some people who live with paralyzing illness, no limbs, constant pain, homeless, and struggling generally in their life all the time.
That might help us decide to connect with that type of thing for a little bit during lent out of compassion and love and recognizing that everything isn’t always perfect. Thank you again.
A lovely article. (One of my daughters shared your inspiring article on the family w/app group.) Thanks for the ideas and comments.
I had joked previously that I might give up everything but cabbage and water (plus multivitamins) for Lent.
Hmmm! Dare I????
I had to laugh because I HATE Target and it would be a penance to have to GO there.
Write 40 letters to others, let them know how much you love them.
I have done this! I focus on one person a day and write to say I’m praying for them that day.
I have the radio off when I’m driving because I pray the rosary. Then I listen to K-love
Look over the list of 7 deadly sins: sloth, envy, greed, gluttony, pride, lust, wrath, and then ask the Holy Spirit to tell you how to overcome the one(s) you need to work on getting rid of. Also, ask the Holy Spirit for inspiration on how to grow the 7 virtues: kindness, patience, chastity, diligence, moderation, humility, generosity.
I would like to do a Daniel fast!
One year, I gave up watching reruns of TV shows. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but in the days before numerous streaming options, I was watching reruns just to have something on TV to watch. What a waste of time it had been to watch what I’d already seen!
I ended up discovering MANY new and educational programs to watch that I still enjoy today!
Holy Family Catholic Church, Franklinton