Lent as a Parent, Part 2: Fasting

Lent kicked off on February 22nd with Ash Wednesday, one of the two days of fasting that the Church asks Catholics to do each year. While fasting is only required on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, fasting is a pillar of Lent, along with prayer and almsgiving, so many Catholics choose to fast for additional days throughout the season. With the example of parents who fast and with positive explanations about penance, children grow up with a comprehensive understanding of fasting which prepares them for a life of profound prayer. If you are a parent who wants to encourage fasting within your family, read on!

Starting the conversation about fasting

St. Josemaria Escriva said that “mortification is the drawbridge that enables us to enter the castle of prayer.” Learning about the beauty and potency of fasting will set your children up for fruitful lives of prayer, but in a culture driven by pleasure, it can be difficult to understand why embracing hunger is a good thing. 

The conversation about fasting can begin at a young age. If you don’t know where to start, go to the Gospels and teach your children about Jesus’ forty days of fasting and prayer in the desert. Even if your children are not yet 18 years old and required to fast, you can still encourage them to give up something extra this Lent once a week and to offer it up for a special intention. Children have an unexpected capacity to understand suffering and love if they have the chance to do so!

Your example of fasting will be the best way to show your family that this act of penance is a gift. Don’t be afraid to discuss your plan for fasting with your children at dinner. Framing the fast as a way that you are growing closer to God will make it clear to your family that fasting isn’t something to be afraid of; it’s a gift that draws us closer to Christ. 

Working together to fast with love

The Gospels say to “put oil on your head and wash your face” when you fast. It is important to be externally presentable when we fast, but sometimes fasting amid the overwhelm of life is also internally challenging. Human bodies react to a lack of food with stress-fueled emotions, so it’s important for spouses and adult children to work together to avoid short tempers and set a loving example of fasting for the rest of the family. 

This might mean sharing the chores and responsibilities of a day of fasting more intentionally. It could also take the shape of premeditated compassion when a spouse who is fasting has a moment of frustration. This teamwork is an opportunity to foster strong family communication about emotions, and it will set reasonable standards and a good example of fasting for younger family members. 

Lent is a time to get out of the comfort zone of our prayer life and embrace new challenges. Try fasting just once a week this Lent, and prepare to be amazed at what it does for your prayer life and your family!