5 Ways to Practice Lent for Others

Written by
Eryn Austin-Bergen
Published on
February 2, 2024 at 3:44:00 PM PST February 2, 2024 at 3:44:00 PM PSTnd, February 2, 2024 at 3:44:00 PM PST

Why We All Need Lent This Year 

This year, the world approaches Lent—the six week season between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday—with a heightened sense of sorrow and fear. Our world is on fire—again. Instead of COVID-19, it’s war, inflation, mass hunger, unemployment, and political instability. If ever we needed to turn our eyes to Jesus and prepare our hearts to celebrate and affirm his resurrection power, it’s now! If ever we needed to long for his return, it’s today.

Traditionally, Christians have readied themselves for this Easter celebration by fasting and focusing on prayer.

Fasting is a process of self-denial that reveals the ways our constant consuming will never give us real control over our lives or protect us from the ways the world is changing. Through prayer and fasting, Lent shows us how our attempts to insulate ourselves from risk or numb our fears are, in fact, deepening our wounds and keeping us apart from the only one who can still our anxious thoughts and comfort our aching hearts.

As Samaresh Nayak said in his Advent reflection, “Hope is a person, and his name is Jesus.” 

How can Lent help? 

After the beauty of Advent and the decadent celebration of Christmas, Lent can feel like a downer. Especially if you live in the Northern Hemisphere—it’s already dark and cold and barren, and you want me to give up one of the few comforts I have for six weeks? In addition to being unappealing, it can be hard to understand how observing Lent—fasting—could help us navigate a chaotic world where we feel increasingly vulnerable.

But it does! In the midst of our hunger during Lent (physical and spiritual), we will hear Jesus calling us to live an abundant life free from fear, by getting ready for Good Friday. We need to get ready to die to our doubts and anxieties, and then be raised to a new life of faith and hope in Jesus on Easter morning. 

Through the self-denial of fasting, Jesus invites us to set aside a hyper-focus on ourselves (and those we love), in order to look outward and see him. And when we do, we might be surprised to behold Jesus in the face of “the other” we had overlooked in our busyness of battening down the hatches to protect our own. 

Canadian partners making new friends in Guatemala and learning how to cook a tasty meal from scratch.

Is Lent for me? Well, yes! ...and no. 

Pastor and author Richard Foster writes, “More than any other Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us.” Culturally, it’s hard to resist the impulse to turn Lent into simply another way we try to control things in our chaotic world. For example, it’s become fashionable to fast from sugar in order to lose weight and control your image. Or, to fast from social media, in order to control your anxiety and time management. 

But is that really fasting?

In Foster’s 1978 hit, Celebration of Discipline, he defines fasting as: “the voluntary denial of otherwise normal functioning for the sake of intense spiritual activity.” The first time I read his book, I decided to fast from drinking coffee for Lent—I definitely stopped all normal functioning for 40 days! But, sadly, I can’t say that I got much spiritual growth out of the process. I was doing it alone and I didn’t have a real purpose to my fasting. For some reason, it didn’t “work”.

In Isaiah 58, the Bible describes how God defines fasting, and what the results of our fasting should be:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

  and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

  and break every yoke?

7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry

  and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—

when you see the naked, to clothe them,

  and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,

  and your healing will quickly appear.”

Sometimes "the oppressed" and "the hungry" don't look the way we expect they will.

According to this scripture, the spiritual activity of fasting isn’t really about what you stop doing, it’s about what you keep doing—justice! Isaiah tells us that spiritual renewal, acts of justice, and healing are all part of Godly fasting. For Protestants (especially Evangelicals like me) who are new(ish) to Lent, it can be hard to know what to fast from and how to bring in that justice.

How does it work?

The best place to start is to find a group of people to fast with, perhaps family, small group members, the people we live with, or even Christian colleagues. Then choose something to fast from and talk about ways you can bring justice into your own community, together. 

By fasting as a group, you’ll grow closer together and have a higher chance of sticking with it through to Easter weekend. During your weeks of fasting, talk to each other about how the experience is going. Pay attention to how you feel when you crave what you’ve given up. Ask “What is the underlying need I’m trying to meet? What is the pain I’m trying to medicate? What in my life feels out of control?” Turn to Jesus, and allow him to speak his authority and peace into your life.

Here are five (pretty classic) suggestions for fasting, each one offering something to abstain from and something to add/change in your life.

1. Coffee: Abstain from drinking coffee.

Add: Track the money you save by not drinking coffee and give that amount to someone you know who needs help, or to a charity who will share your Lent sacrifice where needed most. 

Go the extra mile: Stop drinking generic coffee. Do a quick 15-minutes search to find fairtrade or direct trade coffee options and make the choice to only buy and drink ethical coffee to bring justice to the coffee farmers.  

Maria's coffee-farming family is thriving, thanks to a partnership with Canadians.

2. Chocolate/Sugar: Abstain from eating chocolate and/or sugar.

Add: Track the money you save by not eating chocolate and sweets and give that amount to someone you know who needs help, or to a charity who will share your lent sacrifice where needed most. 

Go the extra mile: Stop eating chocolate and/or sugar that exploits farmers. Do quick search (try this website - it's amazing!) to find fair trade or direct trade chocolate and sugar options. Make the choice to only buy and eat those during Lent, and bring justice to farmers. 

3. Meat: Abstain from eating meat. 

Add: It’s no secret our western diet is unsustainable. If every person in the world ate meat every day, the earth would be overrun and stripped bare by livestock! Try eating more sustainable protein options for 40 days.  

Go the extra mile: Stop eating meat that you don’t know the origin of. Search for ethical meat options near you (local farms, butcheries). God has called us to care for and respect his animals, so, check out grass-fed beef, free range chicken, or pasture raised pork (remember, it's not about the label; it's about how the animals are cared for). You’ll probably get a good shock from the price tag and end up eating less meat, anyway.


4. Alcohol: Abstain from drinking alcohol. 

Add: Alcohol is not cheap! Track the money you save by not buying and drinking alcohol and give that amount to someone you know who needs help, or to a centre that helps people overcome dependence on chemical substances. 

Go the extra mile: Find ways to listen to, learn from, and stand with those living in addiction or walking in sobriety. Give them your time, compassion, respect, and prayers. 

5. Screens: Abstain from looking at your phone all the time. 

This is a hard one! Our phone addiction is a systemic social problem as well as a personal vice. And the reasons vary. Maybe you’re addicted to social media, reading the news, or texting. Maybe you’re addicted to noise, distraction, and entertainment (who isn't?). “7 Proven Ways to Break Your Cell Phone Addiction” and “Do Not Disturb” are two fantastic articles you can tap into for ideas on how to get free from your phone. 

Add: Replace that phone time with renewed attentiveness to unmediated reality. In other words, look around you! Connect with nature and people. Allow prayer to become your go-to instead of scrolling. 

Go the extra mile: When we avoid awkward moments by taking out our phones, we can miss opportunities to “be Jesus” to someone else. Instead of checking socials, ask the Holy Spirit to show you someone in your immediate surroundings you can love and serve, even if for a brief moment in a mundane place (like the grocery store or play park).  

The joy of unmediated human connection never disappoints!

Let’s try fasting together, this Lent—for ourselves and for our neighbours—so that the oppressed will be set free, the hungry will be fed, and our light will break forth like the dawn. In a world on fire, doesn’t that sound like the good news of Easter morning?

Are you moved by Isaiah’s call to live for God’s justice in this broken world? Talk to someone at FH Canada about how you can partner with a community to help them fight poverty. Reach out to mike.janz@fhcanada.org