Every year, liturgical congregations observe Lent. This season begins with Ash Wednesday and lasts 40 days, ending on Easter Sunday. Overall, it is generally understood as a time of repentance and reflection and often involves some sort of fast.
There are many different reasons that Christians fast during Lent, and different sects and denominations may narrow their focus to specific purposes:
- Spiritual purification or renewal
- Lament or mourning
- Request for God's intervention in the world
- Focus on prayer life
Just as there are several reasons particular congregations or individuals may fast, there are also different methods they use. If you want to try fasting this Lenten season, here are a few options you may consider.
The most common type of fasting in many traditions is a food fast. Essentially, you alter or abstain from your diet for a particular amount of time. While no doctor is likely to suggest going without any food for 40 days, medical research supports intermittent fasting within certain parameters. A food fast for Lent may look like abstaining from one or two meals a day, eating either in the morning or only after the sun goes down. It may also mean fasting from solid food for the majority of the week, allowing yourself only juice or water for three or four days at a time. You may simply decide to abstain from a particular food, such as chocolate, dairy or meat, for the duration of the season. As with any change in diet, it's important to consult your doctor before starting a food fast to ensure that you approach it in a healthy way.
Many people often characterize their lives as busy, and that can make it difficult to slow down enough to get the full experience of Lent. A distraction fast can resolve this challenge. Start by paying attention to the typical noise in your environment or finding activities in which you and your family regularly engage that are unnecessary. For example, many people find themselves checking their work emails even after they leave the office for the day. Others may spend a few hours in front of the television every night. The purpose of a distraction fast is to temporarily eliminate the elements of your life that may be keeping you from being fully present to what God has to say to you. Clearing out the unnecessary noise for a while can help you focus on what you need to learn from the season.
The prophet Isaiah describes the kind of fast that is pleasing to God. It is a fast that seeks a world that is free from injustice, hunger, poverty and other kinds of strife. A comfort fast can bring these concepts home by giving you the opportunity to go without the conveniences or luxuries you take for granted. You can eat simpler meals so that you are able to designate a portion of your grocery budget during the season to contribute to food pantries or soup kitchens, or you can give up your family night once a week to volunteer your time to serve there. A commitment to taking public transportation instead of using the convenience of your personal vehicle can open your eyes to what those who cannot afford a car must do to simply complete daily life tasks, such as getting to their jobs or running errands. Going without a hat or coat when the weather is cold can increase your compassion for the homeless population in your area. Abstaining from comfort during Lent can increase both awareness and gratitude.
Fasting isn't always about food, particularly when the season is as long as Lent. You can find creative ways to focus on the lessons you are meant to learn during this period.