Okay, I’m not 100% certain on the etiquette and ethics of giving something up for Lent. I think, however, that one of the ideas is to not discuss it, not to make a point of it, but to do it discreetly. Like the advice on fasting in the Bible, don’t let people know you are doing it while you are doing it. The reason being we shouldn’t draw attention to our good works, to make people think good of us. Well, from a certain perspective, I am going to break etiquette, but hopefully not ethics.
I am breaking etiquette to mention what I have chosen to “give up” for Lent, though the way I do it shouldn’t really draw attention to any outstanding good works of mine. Usually you give up something for Lent that takes time out of your schedule, to free up additional time for prayer and other spiritual disciplines. What I gave up doesn’t really free much time for the disciplines. Though it does perhaps exercise a certain amount of self-discipline.
I am doing what can either be thought of as the 16-hour fast or the 8-hour diet for Lent.
The concept of the 8-hour diet is that you only eat during 8 hours a day – you fast for the other 16 hours a day. After your 16-hour fast you can eat what you want to eat. You don’t even have to fast more than 2-3 days a week if you want to.
The actual effectiveness of the diet is questioned by some sources, but it does provide an exercise in willpower – for 16 hours. Then 8 hours of alleged lack of willpower. It is amazing, at first, what sort of willpower is required to not eat when you first get up, or as late as you want in the evening. But for me, at least, it is amazing on some days how not hungry I can be getting up. Hunger is more obvious on the days when I am inactive, doing sedentary activity. When I am active the hunger seems to delay itself longer.
Nor does the 8 hours become a time of total indulgence. It makes sense to try and eat sensibly, balanced, during the 8 hours. But it isn’t easy to make a full 8 hours of eating. After filling up at the beginning, it can actually be hard to continue eating for awhile, until I have had a time to rest and recoup. So it ends up being a meal at the beginning, one near the end, and a possibly snack in the middle (or meal, meal, snack). Unless you really put heavy calorie, junk food in as the primary foods eaten, it is hard to eat excessively in a limited timeframe.
The other thing about the Lenten diet, is it doesn’t apply to Sundays – Sunday is not officially part of the 40 days of Lent. So I get a break day every week (since I am doing it the other 6 days of the week). And it seems extreme, and sometimes heavy eating, to eat the full day through, when I have gotten into the habit of just 8 hours a day. But what it does allow is eating during all the special church events that occur on a Sunday, to be able to participate in the communal meals that are a part of church community.
So maybe there is more to this Lenten diet than at first it seemed, as inconsequential as it appears to the exercise of the spiritual disciplines. But anything that takes us out of our patterns, and makes us focus on our lives, what we do, how we do it and why, if those lead us to spiritual contemplations, can be an important thing during Lent, or other times of the year.