The liturgical season of Lent begins today on Ash Wednesday, that day in the year when Catholics and lots of other Christians spend the whole day walking around with smudges of ash on our foreheads to remind us of our mortality.
Wow, doesn’t that sound like a party you’d like to attend?
Yes, it’s true, Lent is perhaps not the most festive time of the year. We take the forty days before Easter to focus on how we can be closer to God, less focused on ourselves and and our material possessions, more focused on serving others and giving charitably. We examine our lives to find things that are distracting us from what is most important. Many people choose something to “give up” during this period. This practice has two purposes. It is a way of eliminating some of the extra things that claim our attention, giving us more space to focus on spiritual things. It’s also a way to make a small personal sacrifice, which reminds us of the sacrifice that Jesus made with his life. We know that giving up chocolate or television for Lent doesn’t compare in any measurable way to giving up life for Love; however, as we feel the absence of these little things, we have many opportunities to think about Jesus’ much greater sacrifice for us.
In the spirit of making a small personal sacrifice, I have decided to give up social media (Facebook and Twitter) for Lent. I’ve recognized that I am frequently distracted by “checking in” on these two networks during the day. I’ve lost the ability to just sit and be quiet. I check my phone in the morning when I wake up, probably thirty times during the day (not that I’ve counted, but it’s a lot), even more in the evenings, when we are in the car and I’m not driving, again before bed. I think all of this distraction is taking up too much of my attention, and it’s one place I feel certain I could free up some time to focus on the spiritual housecleaning I ought to be about this time of year.
It’s not that I don’t care about what’s happening in the world. It’s actually the opposite. I do care, and I want to use Lent to reclaim some of the space inside my own head so that I can engage the world and the people in it in more meaningful, more intentional ways. I want to read things in depth. I want to have real conversations with my friends instead of just “liking” important moments in their lives. I want to rid my world of those pictures of turn of the century women talking about drinking gin in bathtubs while hiding from their children.
What else could I be doing to fill up all the little gaps in my day when I’m not scrolling through the screen on my phone, looking for updates on the outside world? Here is a quick list of possibilities (somewhat tongue in cheek, but hey – I’m not giving up humor for Lent):
1. Look at my kids when they talk to me.
2. Read something with substance.
3. Memorize something: scripture, or a prayer, or poetry.
4. Stare aimlessly at the wall and let my mind wander.
5. Go through the alphabet and make every word rhyme with my children’s names.
6. Pull weeds in the flowerbed.
7. Sketch something.
8. Look at the night sky.
9. Conjugate verbs.
10. Conjugate verbs in French.
11. Find new recipes.
13. Build something out of marshmallows and toothpicks.
14. Rearrange the pantry. (Bonus: find extra food hiding in there and donate it to the food pantry.)
16. Put together my sister’s Christmas package and mail it to Alaska.
17. Write thank you notes.
18. Write letters to people I usually talk to only on Facebook or Twitter.
20. Fold that huge basket of laundry sitting in the corner.
22. Make “God’s Eyes” with SuperSam.
23. Learn how to darn socks.
24. Darn the socks. (No, actually fix them.)
25. Play the piano.
26. Water the plants.
27. Dust something. (There are plenty of choices.)
28. Replace the three burned-out lightbulbs in our house (that have been burned out for at least a month).
29. Repot a plant. (Or three or four, since repotting plants seems to always have a domino effect.)
30. Call the guy to fix my sewing machine. (Once that’s done, I can add about ten projects to this list!)
There have to be at least fifty more things that could be tucked into those spaces that not checking Facebook will leave in my day.
I’m still going to write here, because I want to keep this space open. I want to keep this conversation going. And I want to be accountable to someone – you! – for this decision I have made.
As of today, I will be taking the Facebook and Twitter apps off my phone. If it is harder to get to them, maybe it will be easier to avoid them. I’ll keep you posted on how it is going.
Blessed Ash Wednesday to you all.