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The benefits of fasting: Ash Wednesday, 5 March 2014

To explore the concept of fasting.

by James Lamont

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To explore the concept of fasting.


  1. The Christian period of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. This is a 40-day period (excluding the six Sundays) of reflection and fasting to represent the period Jesus spent in the desert, during which he was tempted by, and resisted, the devil. Christians attempt to show support and solidarity with this ideal by giving up certain things.
  2. There is no set date for Ash Wednesday, because the date of Easter Sunday, of which Lent is directly connected, changes every year. On the night before, tradition has it that those about to fast should use up luxury foods such as eggs, butter and sugar in making pancakes. This custom survives to this day, albeit in a more secular form.
  3. If fasting is only of ceremonial value, then why do it? The immediate effects are noticeable: one saves money and eats more healthily. In fact, our society encourages this: look in bookshops for detox, diet and health food books. Many people embark on these ‘fasts’ for straightforward reasons, such as to lose weight. But another effect is often experienced: an improvement in one’s mental well-being.
  4. Christians fasting during Lent often have a similar experience. There is joy to be gained in self-control and the rejection of short-term physical pleasures with poor long-term consequences. Lenten fasting is, for Christians, a detox for the soul: a rejection of temptation in favour of what really matters to a Christian: fellowship with others and closeness to God.
  5. Of course, giving up food is only one part of a successful fast: you should also act as you would expect a good person to act. It was the Prophet Muhammad who summarized this best, showing the importance of fasting in other religions:

    ‘If you do not give up telling lies God will have no need of your giving up food and drink. There are many who fast all day and pray all night, but they gain nothing but hunger and sleeplessness.’
  6. Fasting must be done in moderation: nothing is gained from hunger alone. Muslims fast completely during daylight hours for the month of Ramadan. Meals are eaten before sunrise and after sunset. This shows that, although the fasting period is necessary, it works best when accompanied with a relief, to allow one to truly appreciate what has been given up.
  7. And what about you? Do you ever fast? It does have its benefits, even if you are a person of little or no faith. So how about fasting this Lent? Give up, say, chocolate? Too hard? How about choosing something that you can give up successfully: perhaps give up crisps, and donate the money you would have spent on them to charity?

    Or maybe take something up, so you are giving a little of your time. Or how about deciding to be more smiley in the morning at home? Clearing up your room without being asked? Or even doing the washing-up or stacking the dishwasher? Now there’s a challenge for you!

Time for reflection


How I love it.

Give some up for 40 days?

You’ve got to be joking.


Got so much of it,

Yet I never know where it went.

Give up some time for someone else?

Give up some food to help others?

That’s hard.

Do something at home?

That’s hard.

Make the world a better place?

Now there’s the challenge.


Make my good deeds and actions like a ripple on a pond.

May they spread out to cover more and more people,

So that slowly and surely,

The world becomes a better place.


Publication date: February 2009   (Vol.11 No.2)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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