Fasting: it's not just about food anymore

When we think of fasting during Lent, we often think of giving up certain foods—chocolate, desserts, meat, beer, wine, and such. And that’s fine. But fasting goes beyond food.  Here are some other ways of fasting during Lent.

Fasting from speed. Mahatma Gandhi said, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.” Not everything has to be done fast.  In fact, some things deserve to be done slowly—like reading a bedtime story to a child, eating lunch with a friend, cooking a special meal, sipping tea or wine or hot chocolate, sitting at the bedside of someone who is ill, puttering in the garden, talking quietly with a loved one, watching a sunset. Slowing down nurtures patience.

Fasting from negativity. Negative people see the world through gray-colored glasses. They focus on what’s wrong with the world instead of what’s right. They complain, “My right knee hurts today,” instead of adding that their neck, shoulders, elbows, hands, left knee, ankles, and feet are all fine today.  They shoot down every new idea with, “It won’t work!” and every expression of hope with generalities like “People are basically selfish and lazy.” Yes, life has disappointments. Yes, life has pain. But life is also filled with goodness, joys, and beautiful surprises. If we tend to look at life negatively, then Lent is a good time to get a new pair of glasses. Focusing on what’s right leads to gratitude.

Fasting from the need to control. Control is something we almost worship in our culture. It is one of our “idols.” We try to control everything—our waistline, our hair, our cholesterol, our wrinkles, our finances, other people, the future, and even God! During Lent we can practice letting go of thinking we are somehow in charge of the universe. Instead we can reaffirm our belief in Divine Providence which means: Ultimately God is in control. This takes trust.

Fasting from perfectionism. Perfectionism is the disposition that says anything short of perfect is unacceptable. Trying to be perfect takes a great toll—on ourselves and on the people we live and work with. We are never satisfied. More than that (as the proverb says), “The perfect can be the enemy of the good.” How many good things don’t get done because someone is afraid it won’t be good enough?  The British writer G. K. Chesterton said: “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” It takes humility to accept our human limitations.

Fasting from self-centeredness. Kindness is a virtue that demands we put aside our own concerns and our own plans in order to assist someone else. Nearly everyone can be kind on a single occasion, but kindness becomes a real virtue when it becomes our ordinary way of being.  Kindness is expressed in the concrete—in words, tone of voice, facial expression, and gesture. Remember that St. Paul begins his beautiful hymn to charity with the words, “Love is patient, love is kind.”

As we continue our Lenten journey, we might want to fast in these other ways. Who knows? This type of fasting might continue well beyond the season of Lent and into the rest of our life!







  1. Lorretta on March 11, 2013 at 9:18 am

    I love this sunflower seed on fasting! There is so much more than food to think of. With this in mind may I use parts of this article for our parish bulletin? Thank you either way for such wonderful seed to chew on!

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on March 11, 2013 at 3:29 pm

      Yes, Loretta, you may use parts of this for your parish bulletin. Just give credit to my blog, okay? Thank you very much! Sr. Melannie

  2. Candy Lyons on March 11, 2013 at 1:51 pm


    Thank you for this posting. Some very good things to remember as Lent winds its way to Easter!

    God bless you.


    • Melannie Svoboda SND on March 11, 2013 at 3:30 pm

      Thank you, Candy! Lent has a way of winding quickly towards Easter, not so? Sr. Melannie

  3. Martha on March 11, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    Sr. Melannie,
    I found your blog, how wonderful to have a reflection each week.
    I heard a priest say in Mass once, that “Mahatma Gandi once said if a God were to come to the earth, I think he would come in the form of bread, because there are so many hungry people”. This fasting makes us hungry for the Lord.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on March 11, 2013 at 8:24 pm

      Dear Martha, Welcome to my blog–al the way from Utah! It’s good to have you with us. That’s a great quote from Gandhi. Fasting from food can be a way we remind ourselves of the many, many hungry people in our world. Thanks for writing! Melannie

  4. Dawn on March 11, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    What a wonderful post on making sure we put our lives in the right focus and concentrate on the things that truely matter this lent and always! Thank you for your wonderful words of wisdom!

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on March 11, 2013 at 8:23 pm

      And thank you, Dawn, for reminding us that our lives need to have “the right focus.” As someone has said, “Don’t major in minor things.” Sr. Melannie

  5. Maryann on March 11, 2013 at 11:31 pm

    Sister Mel,
    I enjoy reading your blog posts. This one was a particular awakening: I had never thought of fasting in terms of anything other than food. The insights you’ve described here make so much sense! The “fasting from speed” suggestions are ones that I’m going to try to keep in mind in the coming weeks.
    Thank you.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on March 12, 2013 at 6:35 am

      Dear Maryann, Yes, we often fall into the “trap” of “worshiping” speed and efficiency. How often we find ourselves saying, “This computer is so slow!” Or “This microwave is so slow.” Thank you for responding, Maryann! Sr. Melannie

  6. Anita on March 12, 2013 at 10:06 pm

    Hi Sister Melannie

    I look forward to reading Sunflower Seeds weekly. The topics are thought provoking (loved the old address book and Abe Lincoln ones). I’m always enlightened in some way. I save many of them and often re-read them because the information is powerful. I saw myself in this blog on Lent in almost every category from the perfectionist to the one needing to have control. The best thing about this blog were the suggestions on how to make changes. I really think your column is helping me be a kinder, less egocentric person. I also enjoy your Living Faith reflections. They are the best! Keep up the great work. Nita

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on March 13, 2013 at 8:50 am

      Dear Nita, Wow! Thank you for the compliments about my writing. It’s good for me to know what people connect with–and what they don’t connect with. So thank you! I too struggle with many of the things I write about. None of us has “all our ducks in a row,” right? Thanks again, Nita! Sr. Melannie

  7. marian on March 12, 2013 at 10:56 pm

    Hi Melanie

    On the way to work this morning as a tractor trailer came up the rear of my car…I was a bit annoyed and began to think “he should”…..THEN…I thought about how those tractor trailers carry so many of the goods I enjoy…
    …fasting from SHOULD and fasting on GRATITUDE meant more peaceful ride to work.

    Thank you for keeping the faith real. It was a joy to be at your retreat with the other treasures (sisters) this past weekend. God bless you!

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on March 13, 2013 at 8:46 am

      Hi, Marian! What a good example you give here! Thank you! And I enjoyed meeting you this past weekend in Wernersville. It’s fun meeting individuals who know me through my blog. Thanks again! Melannie

  8. Larry on March 16, 2013 at 2:34 pm


    What a wonderful list of items to fast from and the virtues that they support. One of my favorites also follows your fasting from self-centeredness and leads me to look for opportunities to affirm and encourage others from the servers at restaurants to the lectors at church to those who make life better by doing their jobs well.

    Thank you. Larry

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on March 16, 2013 at 3:07 pm

      Dear Larry, I really liked your phrase “those who make life better by doing their jobs well.” That takes in so many individuals we otherwise could take for granted: the people you mentioned as well as engineers, construction workers, sanitation personnel, maintenance workers, people who oversee nuclear power plants, farmers, entertainers, vets, composers, letter carriers, window washers, flight attendants….and the list goes on and on. Thank you, Larry, for your response! Melannie

  9. Marilyn Morgan on March 20, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    Only a few more days of Lent…then the Easter celebration begins…must admit that candy & desserts are my favorite fasts…then I don’t have to face what I really need to fast from…Have never met you, so how do you know me so well? 🙂 I think I could work on the fasts on this blog page alone FOREVER. Seriously, I just shared this page with my Facebook friends…Thanks for all of your writings…don’t usually leave comments. Love the SNDs…my grade school teachers!

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on March 20, 2013 at 3:46 pm

      Dear Marilyn, How honest you are! A healthy spirituality is always based on honesty! Yes, you and I must be somewhat alike….Thanks again for writing–and for sharing my blog with your friends…I’m glad you love the SNDs…(I do too!) Sr. Melannie

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