Saturday, March 22, 2014

thoughts on lent

This is the third year that my Lenten fast has come in the form of detaching from Facebook for 40-something days. I’ve given up caffeine before (great way to get a Lenten headache and develop latent Lenten irritability). I’ve passed up sweets, TV, and various other components of my day to day existence, but none has exposed my soul to the degree that fasting from Facebook has. That sounds odd, maybe even petty, and I’m mildly embarrassed to admit it. But it’s true.

The thing is, though my other Lenten fasts have required some measure of sacrifice (did I mention the caffeine headache?), or at least heightened awareness, none has really felt like more than an inconvenience. Knowing that the purpose of Lenten fasting is to create spaces to pause and consider God, consider what this season before Easter really signifies in our lives, I would occasionally attempt to turn a caffeine headache into a pained prayer, or a sweet tooth moment into a brief entrĂ©e for the holy into the common. If I am honest, though, my awareness of God’s presence was not heightened to any great degree during those particular Lenten seasons. Fasting from Facebook, however, brings into bold clarity something of which I am only vaguely aware most of the time:

I am deeply lonely a lot of the time, and I attempt to use Facebook to fill in my empty spaces.

Well now, that’s embarrassing. As I said, I am vaguely aware of this most of the time. That’s because if I am honest with myself, I know full well that Facebook is actually a pretty shitty antidote to loneliness. Using Facebook as a substitute for human interaction is like using Runts to fill a fruit craving (on what planet does that actually taste like a banana?). I open the page, hope for a notification, maybe scan some photos and statuses (stati?), as if that actually means I’ve had some form of interaction with someone or shared life with them in any significant way. I get a little disappointed, maybe even jaded, and close the window, only to reopen it as soon as a pang of loneliness (or boredom) hits, as if the odds of the Facebook-Fix healing my heart this time are somehow higher than they were 2 minutes ago. Unlikely, and I know it, but I twitch like an addict and type in the address again.

Enter Lent, when no matter how big the twitch is, maintaining my integrity means staying my hand and sitting with my loneliness. It isn’t a fleeting craving for sugar, or a moment before Tylenol kicks in, or a brief interlude while I figure out what to do with the TV off. It’s this huge space in me that aches more than itches. And there, in the vacuum, a space opens for God. There my awareness of my own heart is heightened, and my mind is recalled to a recognition that he has promised to fill that vacuum in a way that no one else will ever be able to do. I recall memories of times in my life when I leaned more fully into the belief that he belongs in that space. And I am keenly aware that these days I daily post a No Vacancy sign so that Facebook can promise company and stand me up again. And again. And again.

I wish I could say that I am awesome, and that Easter comes and goes and I have stopped inviting Facebook over for dinner quite as often. That would be a lie. But I can say that with each passing Lent, I become a little more aware, a little less satisfied by my box of relational Runts. My prayer is that in pausing, in being aware, I also begin to develop deeper habits of inviting God to fill those empty spaces with himself, and let Facebook take its rightful place in the periphery. Fun, but not a fix. Thank God for Lent.