It’s that time of year when I get asked if I gave anything up for Lent. Basic small talk in many of the circles I run in. It tends to be somewhat awkward for me, because it’s been a long time since I did “give up” something because it happened to be Lent. I have, however, recently given up all liquid forms of caffeine as well as soda, diet or otherwise. Not because of any perceived religious obligation, I just decided it was better stewardship of the temple of my physical body if I kept certain things from it.
Hear me clearly. Reflecting on the suffering and sacrifice of Christ is extremely valuable as the Church approaches Good Friday. Christ Community holds a Tenebrae service on Maundy Thursday – a “service of shadows” where the room literally becomes progressively darker as we journey through the scriptures surrounding the Last Supper and Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. Leaving that time in somber silence sets up a startling contrast with the explosive joy of Resurrection Sunday. Can not eating chocolate or drinking coffee for a few weeks really accomplish that? For me, it never has.
What I’ve observed is that people often either 1) give up something they shouldn’t have been doing in the first place (I was perusing an internet board about Lent yesterday where an unmarried person proudly said she was giving up casual sex) or 2) they set aside something not inherently harmful or sinful, fully intending to resume it with gusto after Lent is over. My own experience is that when you go without something for a time, but with the intent of returning to it later, you may find it hard to think of anything except that thing until you have it again. While this type of “fasting” – in the larger sense not restricted to food – can be a pathway to powerful intimacy with One who sacrificed perfectly, many people return to their forsaken love-token with a gluttony far beyond the ancient and biblical notion of feasting. (Don’t get me started on the inconsistencies of avoiding meat on Fridays but going to an “all-you-can-eat” fish fry, or abstaining entirely from all food, drink, and even water during daylight hours only to stay up much of the night in a frenzy of eating, drinking, and partying.)
As a Protestant, my faith tradition does not prescribe nor proscribe any particular method of fasting, during Lent or otherwise. I do, however, hear Jesus’ clarion call to not a season but a life of sacrifice. “Take up your cross daily,” He says, not just for a few weeks a year (Luke 9:23). “Deny yourself” those things that keep you from following the most integral path possible. So what am I doing about His call?
If you’ve known me for at least 5 minutes, you know how much I love my tech toys. I can hardly go a few minutes without checking my Twitter/Facebook/RSS feed/email or listening to some form of audio, be it music, podcast, or audiobook. I am constantly connected digitally. I guess I am technically Gen X, but I definitely act like Gen Y when it comes to all things technical (some calculations allow me to be considered a Millennial, but just barely). I first got on the Internet in 1994, in some part because a class I took required an email address to participate in a forum. Since then, I have been hooked. Too much so.
I’ve been thinking and learning about a not-so-new concept that has been gaining a lot of popularity amongst those who (like me) find themselves compelled to attend instantly to every beep, buzz, and whistle from their multitude of screens. In an unlikely place – an article in a 2008 Reader’s Digest I found on a 6th grade class bookshelf – I discovered the refreshment many have found in unplugging for at least one day a week. Some call it a “digital sabbath” or even a “secular sabbath” if they have no specific religious reason to engage the practice.
My plan is that from bedtime Saturday until I awake on Monday, I will unplug from all the screens in my life. No laptop, no iPhone, no iPod. (In fact, the iPhone will stay at home.) No Facebook, no Twitter, no text messages, no blogging, no checking headlines or scores. I haven’t fully decided if I will abstain from TV or not. I may allow this one through as catching up on DVR shows is actually a way that Rene and I are sure to be together. If we find ourselves traveling to parts unfamiliar, it could be necessary to deputize her to use the Maps app on my phone.
It will be strange but I think very likely empowering. Minor adjustments will need to be made in some areas, and major mindset shifts in others. I can’t neglect to carry my “hard copy” Bible to church since I won’t have my digital crutch on me. (I have already begun to insist that the boys have an actual Bible instead of using their phones or iPod Touches to look up verses. I need to be relentlessly consistent and unhypocritical here.) Rene will still have her phone on her, so I may forward calls to it in case I get a call for a sub job, and I will need to either write out my questions for the panel at the Five O’Clock Service or have Rene text it in for me.
By the way, I am NOT doing this only for the season of Lent. When I decide to do something of this magnitude, I have no end point in mind. This is for the very health of my soul. So, if you need to get a hold of me on Sundays, either call me on her phone or leave a message. A Saturday-to-Monday gap in my blogging will not end the civilized world as we know it, although I will want to share my journey through what for me is entirely unfamiliar territory. Don’t fret if I don’t respond to an email or text until the next day. I will be enjoying the company of real live human beings, unimpeded by beeps and boops. Or even – gasp – some good old fashioned quiet and solitude. There is simply no app for that.