Steps to a Charitable Lent: How to Observe a Fast Without Going Nuts

Hi everyone! In case you didn’t know, Lent begins on Wednesday, February 14th, 2018. This year, I will abstain from social media and blogging. This will be my last regular post before the Lenten season begins. I wanted to let you know, not because I am seeking outward affirmation, but because I connect with so many of you on social media. I don’t want you to mistake my temporary absence for ignoring your comments and messages. On Sundays, days when fasts are relaxed, I will check in to my blog and maybe even write a short post. The same goes for any social media accounts. Thank you for your support! – Sarah

I love rules. I believe rules offer us an ordered and polite society. Rules are like the high fence on the side of a cliff that keep you from falling off of the side. You can run, skip, and hop within the confines of the fence because you know you won’t topple to your death. There’s freedom in restraint.

So, when Lent rolls around, I become giddy with excitement…and dread. I like the idea of Lent on paper: abstaining from something good in order to grow in Christ. What’s not to like? I’ll tell you what: abstaining. I’m all about the rules of Lent: fasting on Monday through Saturday (Sunday, too, if you’re a hardcore Catholic) and no meat on Fridays (except Filet-O-Fish in the drive-thru). Do you know why I’m all about Lent until it’s time to actually do Lent?

Because I make up too many rules for myself.

Thanks, Mom!

Holy Mother Church isn’t a tyrannical rule creator out to micromanage every bit of your life like many believe. I’ve heard it said this way, “The Church is like our mother, in that she just wants to know what you’re doing and wants to make sure you’re well.”

That’s why the Church gives us guidelines for fasting: people ages 18-59 are required to fast during Lent, with Fridays as a day of abstinence. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, we are to fast and abstain: one regular meal or two meals that do not equal a full meal. Of course, this excludes women who are pregnant and nursing, young children, the sick, and the elderly. We are all given the same guidelines with reasonable exceptions. Moms are understanding.

How to be Charitable

But, if you’re like me, you think you have to go above and beyond the guidelines set for you. In the past, I equated how severe my fasting was with the effectiveness and holiness of my Lenten season. But, through severity, I often found that I was often doing more damage than good. That’s why it’s so important to practice our Lenten fasts with charity. Here are a few ways you can practice charity and fasting during Lent without driving yourself nuts.

  1. Follow the Rules: Fast on Monday through Saturday and abstain from meat on Fridays. Anything else is a bonus. Unless you feel convicted by Our Lord to abstain on Sunday, remember that it’s not a fast day. It’s the Lord’s Day! In Matthew 9:15, Jesus asks, “How can they fast as long as the bridegroom is with them?” Rejoice in the day set aside for the worship of God.
  2. Be Reasonable: Be reasonable in your Lenten commitments. If you have to use your phone frequently for work, maybe it’s not a good idea to give up using it. Or, if you have a health condition that requires an increased protein intake, maybe you don’t need to give up meat (or maybe you can substitute with fish). Find what works for you and go from there. In my experience, when I ask what I need to abstain from, God always answers that prayer.
  3. Understand Others: Perhaps one of the best teachings I heard on Lent was years ago during my college years. This individual, a non-Catholic from a liturgical tradition, recommended that our fasts should be as private as possible as to avoid becoming like the Pharisees and hypocrites Jesus warned us about (Matthew 6:16). For example, if on Friday your non-Catholic co-worker invites you to a burger joint for dinner, it may be in your best interest to go. That interaction may open his or her eyes to the beauty of Catholicism. As the old saying goes: You may be the only Bible that person reads. I’m not saying for you to throw out your fast at every invitation or opportunity, but be understanding. It’s not necessary to say with a loud, pious voice: OH NO I CANNOT PARTAKE OF THIS BEEF AS IT IS FRIDAY AND I AM A DEVOUT ROMAN CATHOLIC WHO IS FASTING SO NO WAY PLEASE STEP ASIDE. Other tips include suggesting a seafood restaurant or choosing a vegetarian option.

I’m not a professional theologian, but I do know that our God is a merciful God. This Lent, you will probably mess it up. You’ll cave into the coffee craving or you’ll sneak a peek at your Facebook timeline. Been there, done that. Remember, learn from my experience, and don’t create extra regulations for yourself. Be charitable to everyone, even you. Listen to the Church and Our Lord, and you’ll find yourself headed in the right direction. I pray you have a very blessed Lent and I look forward to chatting with you on Sundays during Lent and after Easter!

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9 Comments

  1. #3 reminded me of a time not long after moving to KY and before working at GC. It was a Friday during Lent, and my boss pulled me aside during the morning and told me that he was taking me out for lunch at his favorite BBQ joint (since closed). While I could have said no, he would probably have not understood or possibly even gotten upset since he was after all buying lunch for an employee at his FAVORITE place. So I went, felt guilty the rest of the day, and then avoided meat the entire weekend to make up for it – not an easy thing to do while living on a beef farm.

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  2. ” You’ll cave into the coffee craving …” Coffee is now allowed, as are clear drinks- tea, . I don’t know if the rules have changed, or just developed, but clear liquids are allowed, something like ‘nothing over 50 calories’.

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