Changing up your usual practice may bear new spiritual fruit
Chocolate, candy, and sweets are common Lenten sacrifices, but giving up the same thing every year can begin to feel like a routine rather than a sacrifice. Fasting should be a meaningful gesture of self-denial out of love for God. All the better if it helps us grow in self-control and deeper appreciation for various pleasures, conveniences and luxuries in our lives. If you want to try something a little different this year, consider the following alternatives.
1) Screen time and digital devices
Most of us have some level of attachment to our gadgets and digital media, and Lent is the perfect time to fast from them. Perhaps it’s no TV before bedtime, no random web surfing during the day, or no social media until Easter. You might consider going completely screens-free on weekends or using your smartphone for essential communication only.
2) Negative talk and criticism
It’s a rare person who doesn’t criticize others occasionally or engage in some form of negative talk — a light jab here, an unnecessary comment there. Fasting from this kind of speech is much easier said than done, but it’s a powerful act of self-denial that can change you for the better.
3) Hot showers
There’s nothing like a hot shower to get your morning started, but consider turning that temperature down and submitting yourself to lukewarm or cold showers instead. Another alternative is to set a timer and take short showers instead of leisurely ones. (Which of course will be easy the colder the water is!) In February and March, this can be an especially tough sacrifice. Then again, Jesus died on the cross for you. Just saying.
4) Non-essential shopping
Many people have a hard time saying no to the latest gadget, a fabulous new pair of shoes or little extras like gourmet coffees when they’re out and about. Consider staying away from shops during Lent. You can take this a step further and give some of the money you save as alms — another pillar of Lenten practice.
Americans sure like their snacks, and snacks are often harder to give up than actual meals because they’re our comfort foods — what we reach for when we’re stressed, tired or just want to relax. Saying no to this pleasurable habit can make you more aware of your dependence on God. It can also help you drop a few pounds and save on groceries. Not the real reasons you should do it, of course, but additional motivators never hurt.
6) Music and talk radio
Lent invites us to quiet ourselves and listen for the still, small voice of God. Fasting from our usual music playlists, talk radio programs, podcasts and books on tape are a way to do that — especially when we’re in the car. Facing the quiet can be uncomfortable, but we discover God in silence.
Shortcuts here refers to the things we do out of laziness or pure convenience — like taking the elevator when we could take the stairs; driving our car three blocks when we could walk; buying a packaged meal when we could make it ourselves. Some conveniences are necessary to make the rest of life work, but which ones could you sacrifice in order to deny yourself, turn your mind toward God and build better habits?
This one may seem strange, but scents are a powerful part of modern life, and we’re more dependent on them than we realize — think room fresheners, air fresheners in the car, dryer sheets, perfumes, deodorants, scented candles and body products. For Lent, put away some of these for a while or switch to scentless. This is not an invitation to neglect your hygiene, of course — that wouldn’t be very charitable, and charity trumps all — but denying yourself some of your olfactory pleasures can be an interesting exercise.
Many churches still have the custom of covering crucifixes and statues during Lent, particularly for the Holy Triduum. One benefit of this tradition is that it helps the faithful focus on the essentials as well as give the church a sense of barrenness. Consider doing something like this at home by covering your religious images — especially on Good Friday — or taking down some of your art or decorations. It will help you to ponder a world without beauty, and allow you to appreciate the visual pleasures you surround yourself with.
10) Everything yummy
Forget about chocolate — that’s easy-peasy. Our Orthodox brothers and sister fast from sugar, alcohol and animal products during Lent. That means no butter, cream or yogurt, as well as anything with sugar (including that glass of wine with dinner). No beef, pork or chicken, either. Even if you don’t want to give up everything you normally eat, approach meal planning with a Lenten attitude: cook simpler meals and refrain from foods and ingredients you consider more decadent or celebratory.
Have a fruitful Lent!
Zoe Romanowsky is lifestyle editor and video content producer for Aleteia.