Not Your Average Fast: Some Non-Traditional Methods of Religious Fasting

I love, love, love Chick-fil-A’s chocolate chip cookies. When bought by the single, they come all prepared to melt all over my hand, my car, my mouth. Buy the half dozen and my chocolate smeared mouth is probably smiling all the way to the Confessional for the sin of gluttony.

I’m also a huge fan of setting a goal, and then allowing the finish line to consume my thoughts. For example, I can decide to give up all chocolate, or coffee, for forty days of Lent, and at the end of Lent, proudly pat myself on the back for a job well done. I “win”!

This past year, as I approached Lent, I began to consider the purpose of the traditional fasting and giving something up for forty days. I knew, internally, that fasting was more than “giving something up.” However, in the past, my Lents have gone one of two ways:

I either “won” by giving something up entirely, and turning around and gorging on Easter,

or,

I slipped, fell, and gave up entirely.

Falling, getting up and dusting myself off, and trying the next day wasn’t, and isn’t, something I am very consistent with doing. And, the times I do get back up and dust myself off, I feel I am cheating the system; it becomes too easy for me to fail and get back up. I give myself too much mercy.

I’m also a busy mom with little kids. I make use of drive-thru windows, curbside grocery pick-up, and am not above bribery for rewarding good behavior. My children are too young to fully embrace ditching a beloved or cherished object for forty days, and while I could stay strong in the face of chocolate chip cookies being savored by the kids, I found it difficult to explain why Mommy couldn’t/wouldn’t eat one to the littlest one shoving a piece in my mouth.

Fasting is supposed to bring us closer to God, and we are supposed to undertake fasting for penitential purposes as a measure which is intentional – which sees us deepening our relationship with our Creator.

Therefore, this past year, I decided to try something new. Instead of giving up one thing, I decided to try a concept that was spurred by the concept sacrifice beads – something I saw reference to when studying one of the saints. Every morning for Lent, I would identify something I was giving up for God that particular day. And, throughout the day, any extras I chose to sacrifice for had an express intention of assisting a Holy Soul in Purgatory.

For perhaps the first time in my adult life, I would argue I truly understood the concept of fasting, based on my experiences this past Lent.

One day, I would commit to only filling my plate once – fasting from extra portions. Or, I would use the small plate for meals, rather than our regular plate, and only allow myself one trip through the offered dishes.

And, when I finished my meal, mouth watering for more savory goodness for my foodie self, I would offer a prayer.

I gave up using a large comforter and sheets for sleeping.

I blamed it on being too hot, since I was heavily pregnant. However, every time I consciously went to bed on top of the sheets, I said a silent prayer, knowing it had nothing to do with the pregnancy, and everything to do with sacrificing a little of my comfort today, for a deeper meaning and purpose.

If we were heading to Chick-fil-A or McDonalds, I would opt for a large ice water, or unsweetened tea. Or, I would opt out of the chocolate chip cookies that made my mouth water the entire drive to the restaurant.

And, forgoing what I truly wanted afforded me moments to speak to God in prayer.

I tried to give up losing my temper.

Some days, it worked! Other days, I had to pick myself up once… twice… a few times. But, because I had an arsenal of other ideas up my sleeve, and I knew the next day I could choose something else, I didn’t beat myself up as a failure as I spoke to God in prayer.

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At the end of Lent, I looked back and realized that, for the first time in years, I had spent the majority of every day in prayer. I had not only built in time to listen to God in prayer, but I had spent time talking to Him, offering my discomfort up to Him, throughout the entire day… every day!

I understand how some people advocate giving something up an entire forty days. Yet, I have struggled with my personality to make the entire focus on being what it’s supposed to be – sacrificing to bring me closer to God. Therefore, my most recent experience has led to me living a more penitentially sacrificial life.

Maybe I’ve got the entire concept of fasting wrong. But, I do know this system is working for me – it is forcing me to spend extra time in prayer, and extra time focusing on pleasing God, rather than beating some unseen game.

My approach to fasting has changed drastically… and, dare I say, radically… for the better.

I have learned that, in order to truly fast for religious reasons, the key is to be intentional! It doesn’t matter if you give one thing up for forty days, or perform various small acts of penitential fasting every day, changing things up a bit according to what’s going on in your life.

If you strive to be more intentional, then you are already one step closer to building a deeper connection and relationship with God.

Therefore, above is an image with twenty-five alternate ways to fast, since dietary fasting is not necessarily recommended for pregnant mamas, breastfeeding mamas, individuals with certain medical conditions, or people over a certain age. If you do everything on the list twice in a forty day period, you will have extras in case one day is worse than others… or, in case you need to take it scenario by scenario.

These are all tried and tested. The last two suggestions were, by far, the most difficult – and, since it was fasting, I made myself bite my tongue, instead of complaining bitterly – especially about the lack of sleep!

Kendra from Catholic All Year and Bonnie from A Knotted LifeA Knotted Life have organized a Catholic blogger and artisan movement of prayer and fasting in reparation, beginning today, for the atrocious crimes committed by Catholic priests, and then covered up. This movement was being organized prior to Pope Francis’ call to faithful for prayer and fasting, which was announced earlier this week, and is part of a greater call to action… to ensure abuse such as this kind never occurs again, and is never covered up by the Church ever again.

I invite all of you, dear readers, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, to join the Catholic faithful in praying… our Church needs all the prayers it can get, and can use all the support she can get during these difficult days ahead. And, please be assured, I will strive to diligently balance the line between addressing Church news with my regularly scheduled writings.

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What are some of your favorite non-traditional ways to fast? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

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