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Everyday Grace: Families that fast together
by Mary Cronk Farrell
(From the Feb. 28, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)
Did you hear the one about the children reciting the Ten Commandments?
When they finished a little boy said, “Wait, we forgot one.”
“What’s that?” asked the priest.
“Thou shalt give up candy for Lent.”
I remember reaching an age, probably about eight, when I rebelled against this Lenten practice. I’m still not sweet on the idea. But I have come to appreciate the value of some type of Lenten fast.
Fasting, theologians tell us, is not meant to be a way of punishing ourselves. Rather, it’s making a small sacrifice to join with the sacrifice Christ made on the cross.
Fasting is also like an exercise class for our self-discipline muscle. I tell my children it’s a way of practicing “not getting everything you want” or “not having things your way.” This practice in small things can give us the strength and endurance to be Christ-like when harder times come.
If, like me, you are still trying to decide what to do for lent this year, consider a new twist on fasting. Fasting together as a family can be rewarding. You can encourage one another, and even if you are not completely successful the whole family will benefit from trying.
Start by sharing with your children any experiences you might have had as a child giving up something for lent. Talk about whether the practice was meaningful for you. In simple terms try to explain why you are fasting this Lent, and why you want other family members to join you.
You could talk about Jesus fasting for 40 days in the desert, and your desire to grow to be more like him. Or, you could explain how fasting whets the appetite for a feast.
I think it’s best to let children decide for themselves what they want to give up. That way it’s more likely to be meaningful for them. But I’m not above using gentle parental persuasion. One method is to help them narrow the field to two choices, then urge them to pick one.
Here are some fasting suggestions.
• Fast from criticism. This is hard because sometimes we don’t even realize we’ve been critical until the words are out of our mouth. Try this. Agree on a secret sign, such as tugging an earlobe, to quietly signal someone they are being critical. Family members commit to only make the sign in good faith, and to zip their lips without question if they are given the signal. This can help both kids and adults to be more conscious of their words.
• Fast from drinks except water (and milk if needed for nutrition). This is a way to be in solidarity with others who have less. The poorest third of the world’s population often has nothing to drink but water, water that may be contaminated by human, animal and chemical wastes. The middle third of the world’s population drinks almost exclusively, water, tea, coffee and milk. We fall into the richest third. Even though we have the purest and most accessible tap water in the world, statistics from the beverage industry show that since 1989 Americans have been consuming more soda pop than water. At a growing rate, Americans drink commercial beverages packaged in single-use containers, and transported over long distances. This habit requires a huge outlay of the world’s resources.
• Fast from TV, computer and video games. If unplugging electronics completely sounds too difficult for your family, try cutting your time to half. Double your benefit by increasing the time you spend together as a family. Play board games or charades. Take a walk together or simply gather and tell family stories.
• Fast from over-work and over-commitment. If you or your spouse tend to work overtime or have demanding volunteer activities, Lent can be a good time to take a break. Cut back to give yourself and your family even a couple free hours a week. Use the time just to relax and do nothing. If you feel you must do something, spend your free time in reflection or prayer.
If none of these ideas sound right for your family, you can always fall back on giving up candy for lent.
(Farrell is a Spokane free-lance journalist and children’s writer.)
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