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 all for 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.
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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.