Lent can feel like a second chance at New Year’s resolutions, when we try again to give up or start practices in our daily lives as we try to better ourselves. If you grew up Catholic, you are familiar with the question, “So, what are you giving up for Lent this year?” and often we resort back to those childhood sacrifices of sweets, snacks, or extra helpings. It’s easy to approach Lenten fasting as a kind of “round two” attempt at dieting for the year, which completely misses the point of the season.
Why do Catholics fast during Lent, anyway?
The season of Lent is a 40-day period that is meant to mirror the 40 years that the Israelites spent wandering in the desert, as well as the 40 days that Jesus spent facing the temptations of the devil before beginning his ministry. Both events focus less on the “giving up” and more on learning reliance on God - which is the point of Lent!
The goal of fasting is to reflect on what has been distracting us from God and to remove it from our lives for a while. The fast should give us more time and resources for the other two parts of the season: prayer and almsgiving. It’s a way of clearing space in our lives to find room for more peace and joy.
Here’s what you told us you’re fasting from during Lent this year:
1. Social Media
Overwhelmingly, the most popular fast of choice is from social media, since we all know it’s so easy to lose hours to mindless scrolling while jumping from Twitter to Instagram to Tik Tok. There are lots of ways to fast from social media: limiting your time scrolling to a certain day or to a certain hour during the day, removing apps so we have to more deliberately look up sites, or giving up scrolling altogether for 40 days.
Social media is designed to be addictive. We know how it robs us of time, but it’s good to reflect on how it can rob us of our peace, too. We’ve all had those moments where the scroll turns into anger, jealousy, or shame at posts that we disagree with, that spread misinformation, or that make us feel bad in the comparison game. A social media fast can help us reset how we engage online.
If your social media usage is under control, but Netflix binging has taken over your life, then fasting from screens might look like giving up that series that keeps you up all night, or fighting the compulsion to watch that movie everyone is talking about. It can look like limiting your time watching, limiting the number of episodes you watch, or even giving up TV altogether for 40 days.
But after giving up social media, Netflix, or Wordle, what should you do with all this free time?
You could use the time and mental space to meditate, journal, or pray. Have a stack of books you’ve been meaning to read? Use that extra hour to dive into one of them. Have a roommate, friend, or spouse you’ve been meaning to connect with? Use the space from your screen to be present with them. For any way that screens have taken over our days, fasting from them can give us a much-needed break and an opportunity to connect with those around us, and also with God.
3. Negativity Towards Others
Readers also mentioned fasting from negative reactions to others, like gossip, annoyance, nagging, and complaining. During Lent, we’re asked to take stock not only of our relationship with God, but also with others. In asking us to love our neighbors, Jesus was reminding us that love for our neighbor is an extension of love for God, so a way to reorient ourselves this season might be to give up the ways we negatively interact with people, either in person or in our hearts.
That said, it’s hard to go from getting easily annoyed to being the model of patience! By giving up gossip, anger, annoyance, etc., we are retraining ourselves to react in a new way to people, the things they do, or news about them. So what does this look like practically? When someone is doing something that we find annoying, giving up the negative reaction may look like taking a beat to count to three before reacting, or walking away from the situation for a moment so that we can react with patience and compassion. That moment of self-sacrifice is a way for us to join with the sacrifice of Jesus and to learn to love others as He does.
4. One Extra Step in Your Makeup Routine
Some of you mentioned using Lent to fast from excessive focus on external appearance. Giving up makeup, using contacts, or putting together meticulously planned outfits creates space in our lives to remember that externals don’t define us.
During Holy Week, the statues and images throughout churches are covered up with purple cloths so that the focus remains on the altar and the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We can mimic this fast from beauty in the church in our own lives as a reminder to focus on our interior during Lent, too.
Focusing on beauty in itself is not bad, just like having statues and art in a church is not bad. Fasting from one extra way we focus on our external appearance is simply an opportunity to refocus time and energy on our internal selves: our minds, hearts, and souls. This practice could facilitate a more holistic approach to how we seek affirmation, joy, and connection with God and others.
5. Hot Showers
Among the popular responses you sent us, there were several unique suggestions that can stretch your Lenten muscles and inspire you to think beyond the typical Lenten dieting approach.
A few readers mentioned giving up warm showers, recalling the practices of self-discipline that were popular during the earlier times of the Church. The idea behind this fast is to give up a level of comfort in remembrance of the sacrifice that Jesus makes on the cross.
6. Unnecessary Spending
Another suggestion was to give up unnecessary spending. Think about what you need for these 40 days, like groceries or gas money, and stick to a budget that only covers those costs. Rather than picking up a latte on the way to work, make your coffee at home. Eat the leftovers in your fridge instead of ordering takeout. This fast can remind us of the things that we do have and help us be more grateful. Plus, it helps the environment!
We can also unite our fast with almsgiving by setting aside the money we would unnecessarily spend and donating it after Lent.
7. Your Usual Spotify Lineup
A final suggestion is to give up listening to music or podcasts altogether, or to replace your normal Spotify playlists with something spiritual. Giving up music on our commute, our daily run, or other times in our day creates space and time to connect with God.
No matter this year’s answer to the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?”, we hope that it gives you 40 days of reflection and growth. We are all searching for more peace and joy, and those things will be found when we’re more connected to God. Lent is about creating time and space to lean into that relationship with Him, and rest in knowing that you are so loved, today and every day.