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Ash Wednesday—the beginning of Lent—is just around the corner. These next few weeks are a great time to give thought to how you might best make use of this holy season. Because lent is about far more than checking off the minimum requirements of abstinence from meat on Fridays plus fasting on two other days.

You’ve heard it before: Prayer, Fasting, and Alms-giving. These  three activities should occur all year round to some degree, but during lent we are called to step it up a notch or two. Or three. Let’s talk first about Fasting, a.k.a. Giving Stuff Up.

Many of us find it (almost) fun to plan a list of Lenten sacrifices: “I’m giving up [chocolate, pop, TV, coffee, web surfing, etc.] for lent.”   As with New Year’s resolutions, we often  become less faithful these to these plans after the first week or two.    This is not a reason to give up, because Lenten fasting is not about weight loss or health or better time management skills. (Those are nice if they happen, but are not the point.) We give up legitimate pleasures during lent in order to strengthen our wills. If we become skilled at resisting our desires for immediate pleasures, it will be much easier to resist temptations to sin.

But suppose it’s too hard to give up coffee for all of lent. In fact, if skipping the morning joe makes you grumpy towards your family or co-workers, this may not be the best type of fast for you! But here’s what you can do when you’re craving that first steaming cup:  Just…wait. Put if off for 5 minutes. Can you do that? Then you will have “fasted” from coffee for 5 minutes! Maybe you can even manage a 10 minute coffee fast each morning.   Do the same for chocolate, Facebook,TV or whatever else you have a hard time giving up entirely. It’s not exactly the stuff that will go in your file for canonization, but it’s something.

Here’s another good “fast” that doesn’t involve food. Fast from shopping. (I’m looking at you, ladies.) Resolve to buy nothing for yourself that isn’t an absolute, urgent necessity. If you are like me, you’ll save a lot of money this way. Money which can be added to the Rice Bowl collection or to given to  some other worthwhile charity.

Fasting, whether by eating less OR indulging less in the non-edible delights of life will strengthen our wills to resist sin. The tiny amount of suffering this involves should bring to mind the far greater sufferings of Jesus, prompting us to thank Him for giving His life for us.

There’s one more remarkable benefit to Lenten fasting and sacrifice that will be explored in the next post. Stay tuned!