Fasting as a Pillar of Lent
If one of the pillars of Lent was the most widely practiced, I assume that it would be fasting. I always hear people ask, “What are you giving up for Lent?” but I rarely hear people ask, “What are you praying this Lent?” or “How are you giving alms this Lent?”
Whether they know it or not, this practice of giving something up is fasting, but do we fast for the sake of going without something for a while, or does our fasting have a purpose? Because it’s one of the Three Pillars of Lent, we can’t have a fruitful Lent without fasting. Even though fasting is difficult and uncomfortable, we won’t be transformed during Lent without this practice.
How do we fast?
Before we understand why we should fast, we have to know what fasting is. Fasting is abstaining from something, most commonly food, for a spiritual purpose. When we fast, we give up something good so that we can partake of a greater good. We might give up chocolate to remind us that God satisfies us more. We might give up watching TV and movies so we can spend more time with God. Essentially, fasting is letting go of things that distract us from God so that we can focus more on Him instead of worldly things.
We don’t fast as an excuse to go on a diet or lose weight, and we don’t fast to challenge ourselves or to prove that we can. Like I’ve been learning this Lent, it isn’t about us. When we fast from a food that we love, a drink that we enjoy, or a hobby that we do all the time, we acknowledge that it’s good, but God is the most good. We set aside things that take up our time so that we can give more of our time to God. We sacrifice what we love so that we can love God more.
Why should we fast?
Although fasting can sound unpleasant on the surface, it can deepen our faith in a few beautiful ways. First, fasting is a way of deepening prayer. When we pray for a certain intention, fasting can intensify our prayers by offering up our sacrifices for someone or something who we’re praying for.
Fasting is also a way of depending on God. God wants to provide for us, but we often get overwhelmed with the world and forget to let Him take care of us. When we fast, we learn to rely on Him instead of ourselves. Fasting teaches us to set aside our own wants, and sometimes our needs, so that we can turn towards God.
Finally, fasting makes us more selfless as we think of others instead of ourselves. I notice that the pillars of Lent are sometimes connected. Fasting becomes fasting when we pray through it. Without prayer, fasting is just a diet. If you’re fasting from something that you’d normally spend extra money on, like ordering takeout, you can donate that money, which would be a great almsgiving practice.
When we fast intentionally with God in mind, it becomes more challenging, but more rewarding. On difficult days, I remember that Jesus fasted too. Jesus became hungry when He fasted in the desert for forty days, but He stayed strong. When we grow weak and feel tempted to indulge, we can remember why we’re fasting and look to Jesus for strength.
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In case you need some ideas, here are 8 different things to fast from this Lent:
- Snacking in between meals
- Chocolate, candy, and desserts
- Adding sweeteners to coffee or tea
- Sleeping in
- Staying up late
- Hot showers (take cold showers instead)
- Social media
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