Ash Wednesday, dear friends, is upon us!
Lent, oddly enough, is perhaps my favorite season in the church calendar. The prayer, the fasting, the careful examination of self and society, the repentance and discipline . . . it’s my cup of tea, really. I’m kind of depressing that way.
There are lots of different disciplines and practices a person can take up for Lent (a good list is here). But in the post I wanted to talk specifically about fasting.
Usually we associate fasting with food. One year I gave up coffee, for example. Another year I gave up junk food. This is the kind of fasting most deeply rooted in church tradition, and I think it’s an important one. But I think the practice of fasting can be expanded a little. Fasting, I think, is not as much about food as it is about consumption. In the early days of the Church, most Christians really only “consumed” food. But in 21st century America, we consume a lot more than that. We consume all sorts of things–in fact, so much so that many theologians fear that a “consumptive” mentality is threatening the way we even think about religion, relationships, and the gospel itself.
For example, left to my own devices I spend an enormous amount of time on the internet, mainly reading blogs. I read The Daily Dish for the news, and then look at Facebook and Twitter to see if anyone’s posted anything cool, then look at various religious and news blogs. When I’m bored, this is what I do. I read far more in one day than I’ll ever be able to really digest. I am (to use a very old word) a glutton when it comes to information.
So for Lent this year, I am giving up blogs, Twitter, and online news websites. Basically any kind of text-based online media is being cut out. This will cut out an enormous chunk of time from my day. Probably 2-3 hours. I know, it’s crazy.
That’s the really intimidating thing about this: all the free time. I can’t bear the thought of being alone with nothing to distract me.
The fear of loneliness is common to all people in all times, I think. But we Millennials are unique in our ability to distract ourselves from this loneliness. And we owe that to the internet. We spend vast quantities of time online . . . and for what? To what end?
So, here is my proposition to my peers (and any other internet addicts, for that matter): stop using the internet as a distraction during Lent. Use the free time to practice some kind of discipline. This will look different for different people, but here’s three more possibilities to get you started:
- For the social network addict: use Facebook, Twitter, and whatever else you use to keep in touch only once a day, and limit your time. Say, “I’m only giving myself one Facebook visit per day, and I’ll only be on it for twenty minutes.” Trust me, nobody needs more than twenty minutes a day on Facebook: the rest of that time, you’re just distracting yourself for something else. Now, what will you fill that time with? Here’s an idea: we all have people we’d like to have closer friendships with, but instead of engaging them we just comment on their statuses every once in a while. How about a phone call instead? Or better yet, a coffee date? For Lent this year, swap lots of superficial interactions for a few, longer, more engaging ones. You’ll be glad you did.
- For the entertainment addict: Swear off YouTube, Reddit, StumbleUpon, or whatever your poison is, and take up something with more depth. Instead of an hour every day checking out the coolest memes on Reddit, how about getting together a bunch of friends for a movie night once a week? Find a friend with a Netflix account, get some popcorns, and make one night a week about enjoying a good movie with some good friends. I promise, you’ll enjoy that so much more.
- For the music addict: It’s pretty simple. Stop torrenting, downloading, and otherwise consuming music. Stop bringing your iPod with you everywhere, and learn to live with silence. And better yet, use that time to actually learn to play that guitar, you know, the one still in it’s case underneath all your dirty laundry? Or how about something entirely new? How about learning to play the banjo, or piano? In short, become a producer, rather than a consumer, of music. That could be fun, eh?
- For the information addict like me: give up on blogs and the news, and read a freaking book. There’s lots of great ones out there: pick a classic. Pick a long one, a good project. You’ve got forty days, and that’s a long time when you’re not keeping up with twenty blogs a day.
Alright, that’s four ideas. Anybody else got any good ones? What should you be consuming less of this Lent? And how are you going to use all that extra time you’ll have freed up?