Fasting is a traditional practice during the Lenten Season. For many observers deciding what to do for Lent is a bit of a pickle. The traditional fasting is to refrain from all animal products including meat, but what happens if you are vegan? Or if you fast normally from meat every Friday? What happens then?
The intention behind fasting or abstinence is to intentionally withhold something we would normally partake in which can involve food, alcohol, daily activities or habits. To help you in deciding what fast would be both challenging and beneficial, ask yourself: "What would be truly challenging to give up during Lent? What food, drink, activity would be particularly difficult for me to abstain from?" Alternatively, you can ask "What practice can help me grow in my spiritual life?" When you decide, you can share it with a close friend, relative or your significant other to help support you and keep you accountable.
If you are still at a lost, here are 20 practices that are both challenging and beneficial to help you grow spiritually.
Fast From Gossiping: Commit to fasting from insensitive, cruel comments about others. Fasting from gossip requires us to be more mindful of our words and our motivation for what we share with others in conversation. If someone says something negative or unkind about another person, either say something nice or don’t say anything at all.
Fast From Unnecessary Expenditure: What do you usually spend your money on? Is it on clothes, dinners, snacks? If you can live without the purchase, then you you don't need it. Pick one type of expenditure to “fast” from during Lent. You can use the money saved and put it towards your retirement fund, to do something that you've always wanted to do or as part of your Lenten Almsgiving. Either way this period will lead to a better relationship with your money.
Fast From Media: This includes Social Media as well as, streaming videos, video games, talk shows, reality TV. You can also fast from news blogs, sports sites, or anything else that you read too often.
Fast from Excuses: There will always be a very good reason why something went wrong or didn't happen. Try to focus on solutions instead when things go wrong. See it as an opportunity to improve rather than focusing on what you can't do.
Fast from Complaining: We have a culture of complaining in the Western world. You would be surprised how much complaining you do and think this will be easy, until you try to stop. Instead of complaining try re-framing the remarks positively. For example, instead of "I hate my job," Try saying "Thank you for my job which allows me to finance my life."
Fast From Busyness: There is this belief that in order to succeed in life you must grind it out and always be in motion. If you aren't then it is perceived as being lazy. Lent is a period of slowing down since in order to reflect we must take the time. Busyness is a tool very often used in avoidance. So many of us can't stand being still or sitting in quiet. We hate when everything moves too slow for us. During this Lenten period take the time to be in the present moment, savour what is happening around you and the time you spend with your loved ones.
Fast From Sex: This might be the least popular choice, but fasting from sex even within a relationship gives a couple the opportunity to reconnect with each other on an emotional level. This is very different from withholding sex from your spouse and it should be a mutual agreement. Abstaining from sex can lead to improved communication, embracing new and creative ways to show affection leading to increased intimacy. Should you choose to try it please know that it is okay if you slip up. You can also consider a lighter version of your no-sex-for-Lent decision, such as abstaining from sexual activity on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday only or just during Holy Week. Fun fact: Sundays are feast days and do not count :)
Fast from Dating: For the single people out there, this might be an option for you to try, especially if you are a serial dater. This is a good opportunity to reflect on why you are dating, how has it been going so far, what you need in a mate for you to have a healthy relationship.
Fast From Using Swear Words: When things happen like the car won't start or something fell on your clothes or someone cut in front of you in the line, try to avoid uttering the first expletive that comes to mind. Instead, challenge yourself to expand your vocabulary or express yourself in a different way.
Fast From Vanity Practices: This is unusual, but a really good one to try. Are you someone who cannot leave the house without full makeup, even to go to the market? Do you look at yourself every time you pass a mirror or anything with a reflection? Do you absolutely need to out-dress everyone at the supermarket or the mall? Of course no one is suggesting refraining from personal grooming. The question is how much of it is tied to your self worth and your need for external validation?
Fast From Procrastination: Do one thing each day that you don’t want to do or have been putting off doing. Share your intent with a close friend or relative to help you stay committed and accountable.
Embrace Lenten Almsgiving: For this traditional Lenten practice, make an effort to learn more about a particular social issue (immigration, human trafficking, racism, the environment, public education, child poverty) and give money to an organization related to your chosen issue.
Try A New Spiritual Practice: Attend Mass at a different parish or a different time of the day, for example, add a weekday Mass. Sign up for a retreat or start a daily morning meditation practice.
Participate In A 40 Day Challenge: You can commit to 40 days acts of kindness, 40 phone calls to the important people in your life, 40 days of gratitude, 40 notes to your loved ones, 40 Days Negativity Fast.
Embrace Silence: Unplug from your Phone or turn off the radio in your car on your commute or your headphones while walking, switch off your radio/television while in the kitchen.
Pray For Someone Else Without Telling Them: Choose a passerby when you are walking down the street, driving on the highway, a co-worker, a friend going through a difficult time. Pick out someone, anyone and pray for that person. Everyone has their own unique challenges in their life and can always use a prayer.
Throw Away 40 things for 40 days: Every day, walk around your house and collect 40 things to either donate or throw away, every day, until Lent ends. Please ensure that if you are donating something that it is in good condition. Used underwear and garments with holes/tears in them should be thrown in the trash.
Say 3 Nice Things to Your Spouse and Kids Daily: Sounds easy right? Not really. With our busy lives we take it for granted that those around us know how much we appreciate them. This will feel time consuming and difficult, but it will be worth it. Some examples are: “I love how you help the kids,” “I love how you work hard on your homework, even when it is difficult," "Thank you for helping me fold the clothes." If you live with your parents or a relative, you can choose them instead.
Talk Less, Listen More: Listening more can help you learn more about yourself and others, as well as learn how to express yourself better. Speak only when it is important. Ask yourself if what you're saying is truly important and try to avoid talking when it is not really contributing positively to the conversation. Notice if you speak in order to avoid empty space. You may find yourself speaking in order to ease your anxiety about silence.
Move more: As a byproduct of life bringing us more conveniences, we move less than our ancestors. This has led to an increase of lifestyle diseases. Use the stairs instead of the elevator. Park a little further away from your destination and walk. Go outside during your lunch hour for a walk. Try to be less efficient when taking out the groceries i.e. make more trips.
Lent is a process and it requires discipline and commitment. If it was easy it would not be a period of sacrifice. It is however, not a punishment. There may be times when you slip, forgive yourself and start over. Lent is after all about forgiveness and resurrection.