This year for Lent, I gave up social media. No Facebook. No Instagram. (Those are really the only social media apps I use…or so I thought.) I committed to a forty day fast because I was suspicious that I had become dependent upon them. I felt a gentle nudge from God to take a break and see in what ways I might grow as a result.
One reason I chose this particular fast was because I knew I was using Instagram in particular to numb out. I would watch something upsetting or read something upsetting and spend the next 30 minutes scrolling through my feed until I was sufficiently distracted. I would have a hard exchange with another human in my life and find myself scrolling. Unfortunately, when I numbed, I didn’t really deal with what I was feeling. I have a tendency to get very upset for seemingly no reason, only to look back over the previous weeks and realize a lot of things have happened that I haven’t really dealt with. I knew my social media use contributed to that.
When I entered into this 40 day fast, pretty quickly I realized that if I couldn’t pick up my phone and scroll, I had the opportunity to sit for a minute and unpack why I was feeling a certain way, or put together some thoughts that were a little more reasoned. Rather than stuffing myself full of emotions and experiences without processing them, I could be present in a fuller way.
It’s funny how I kept trying to slip back into those old scrolling habits along the way, though. I didn’t feel a particular burning desire to open Facebook or Instagram, but I did notice that I scrolled through my emails WAY more. And one morning I texted a friend to find out if there was some sort of movie version of Goodreads. There is! So, I scrolled and created a database of every movie I’ve ever seen (almost). I looked up an hour later and realized I had found an Instagram replacement. Sneaky temptation.
Growing up, Lent was a season I only gave a passing glance to. I had friends who gave up candy and soda for the 40 day fast that begins on Ash Wednesday, but I didn’t really understand why. It wasn’t part of my Baptist experience. In seminary I learned that some Baptists do observe Lent, and some of the churches in Waco helped broaden my understanding. Since then, I have found this season to be rich.
Lent is a time for contemplation. A focused time to consider where we have drifted from God. Growing up, I had this fear that if I didn’t confess every sin of the day before going to sleep God wouldn’t forgive me. As I racked my brain going over the day I would wonder how high my tally marks of wrongs had grown.
What I’m learning though, is that God doesn’t keep tally marks. Instead, confession is a way for us to loosen the grip sin has in our lives. It’s an opportunity to sit with God and be open to love and grace. It’s a chance to turn around and walk closer to Jesus when we find ourselves off track.
The first week of Lent I meditated on Psalm 32, in The Message translation it goes like this:
Count yourself lucky, how happy you must be—
you get a fresh start,
your slate’s wiped clean.
Count yourself lucky—
God holds nothing against you
and you’re holding nothing back from him.
When I kept it all inside,
my bones turned to powder,
my words became daylong groans.
The pressure never let up;
all the juices of my life dried up.
Then I let it all out;
I said, “I’ll make a clean breast of my failures to God.”
Suddenly the pressure was gone—
my guilt dissolved,
my sin disappeared.
These things add up. Every one of us needs to pray;
when all hell breaks loose and the dam bursts
we’ll be on high ground, untouched.
God’s my island hideaway,
keeps danger far from the shore,
throws garlands of hosannas around my neck.
Let me give you some good advice;
I’m looking you in the eye
and giving it to you straight:
“Don’t be ornery like a horse or mule
that needs bit and bridle
to stay on track.”
God-defiers are always in trouble;
God-affirmers find themselves loved
every time they turn around.
All you honest hearts, raise the roof!
I came upon this Psalm as part of next year’s Lenten reading. I’m sure I’ve read it before, but it just fit so perfectly what I was learning as I lifted my eyes up from my social media feeds and turned my attention to God in prayer.
I found a freedom through my chats with God over Lent. 40 days is a long time. I’ll admit that I didn’t spend every day with my focus on this season of repentance. But, when I found myself scrolling through my email for the tenth time in an hour, or discovering a new social media platform and losing myself in it, as I looked up and blinked I was reminded of how easily I am distracted from God. These little touch points didn’t leave me feeling ashamed or guilty, but instead offered an opportunity to acknowledge my tendencies and say a quick prayer.
I found God wasn’t angry when I slipped into old habits, but rather reminded me in new ways how rich life is when I am talking to God often and being honest about what I am thinking and feeling—and where I am struggling.
This past Sunday was Easter. We ended 40 days of fasting and repentance by celebrating the good news that Jesus is risen. He lives.
In the wake of Easter Sunday, I am finding myself thinking a lot about the piece of liturgy that my pastor spoke over me when I was baptized: buried with Christ in death, raised to walk in newness of life.
Lent isn’t the only time we can incorporate fasting or mindfulness into our lives of faith, but I am thankful for the time I’ve had this Lenten season to examine my heart and habits with God. I look forward now to this season of Easter as I consider again what it means to walk in newness of life.