Fasting has never come easy to this southern baptist. I learned early that Catholics do that sort of thing, but Protestants got it right and baptists even better than most Protestants know that Jesus wants us to eat whatever we want (Peter had that vision making all things clean so fasting is not necessary). The example at the end is a terrible justification for not observing the discipline of fasting but baptists have always been a little freewheeling with their biblical interpretations. Having written about the process of writing and running as acts of discipline, it made sense that during Lent I would attempt a fast but I wanted one to be significant for the point I am at in my life today. Facebook and Twitter consumed too much of my time so I decided to let them go. But I must confess that even when I try to fast I cannot do it correctly.
Unbeknownst to me, Sundays are a day to break fast during Lent. When food is the sacrifice, this break in the fast makes sense both for sustenance and a reminder of why the sacrifice occurs. In good baptist fashion, I practiced the social media fast (notice I did not give up anything important) all day, every day from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday and probably past Easter. So what have I learned about myself and my faith practice? I learned that my lenten journey might have had more to do with my in-laws eating dinner with us than curbing my screen time.
Something funny happened on my way through Lent . . . The cliche is bad, but I really did learn something other than I can survive off social media. A month before Ash Wednesday my in-laws who live next door had their kitchen torn apart so that it could be rebuilt. While the tearing down went well, the cabinetmaker suffered some serious physical set backs and the cabinets were put on hold. One month in to the rebuild and my in-laws fixed their coffee in an upstair bathroom where they washed their few dishes too (the downstairs bathroom had been gutted), while their refrigerator sat on the porch and microwave in the basement. They ate small meals of frozen food for that whole month. I’ll get to the lesson in a minute but first a side note.
I grew up in a family where we entered one another’s houses without knocking and pulled up chairs to the table with added plates if someone arrived at meal time. With a grandmother in the house, a grandmother two doors down, and aunts, uncles, and cousins nearby, I rarely knew a moment when eating a dinner did not involve the potential of other family members to join us. When my in-laws moved to town almost eight years ago, I expected us to have dinner together at least once per week. When we moved next door to them, I expected it even more often. But they had not had family around for most of their marriage and so disrupting our family’s dinner made little sense to them.
The deconstructed kitchen opened up the possibility to change our routines. We have shared meals several times per week from the middle of March through today. I finally said we have to start eating together when my father-in-law raved over a Captain Ds shrimp meal as the most delicious thing he had eaten in a long time. We broke bread, shared stories of our days, and enjoyed one another’s company. When my father-in-law’s father died in late March, they shared food folks in the church had brought over to them. It makes the world easier to tolerate after a long day when we gather around a table with food we did not have to prepare or much to clean, enjoying one another. For Lent our church read a book about Sabbath rest and what it means in our context. Sabbath is about reseting rhythms to resist what the “world” demands of us. Those meals became an act of Sabbath, changing our normal patterns of scheduled chaos to be present with one another. Lent disrupts the ordinary time of the church in the way Sabbath should disrupt the ordinary time of the week. I learned that what I went looking for in Lent I found, but it just happened to be practiced in something different than I thought: screens aren’t the only things that create noise in our lives. We fill our days with chaotic schedules, pressures to be perfect, and the almost compulsive attention to activity in our personal and work lives.
And that leads me back to my social media fast. The new lease on my days is that I discovered I don’t need to check Facebook or Twitter every day. I learned, however, that I missed encouraging my friends on social media. The Apple News app is a good way to get information I thought Facebook and Twitter provided without the commentary everyone, including me, add to their posts. There were personal ego moments that were too painful to admit at first like more people pay attention to me when I am on Facebook than when I am not. Apparently, I need folks to respond to me and my ideas. But that lesson led to a second one: I needed to write the blog posts anyway because I write for me more than the readers. Facebook and Twitter apps will come off my phone since they are unnecessary; Instagram will stay as will SnapChat because they are photo driven and I enjoy seeing family and friends that way. I will attempt to reinforce the lenten practice—this time correctly—and check Facebook once per week so that I can post about my book release (June) and a second book in draft form (this summer) and enjoy my family and friends successes. The most important lesson I gained from the social media fast is that Facebook and Twitter made me believe that every thought I had needed to be shared with the world. They don’t.
I learned on this side of the lenten journey that being present to people in literal and virtual form matters to me. I think that is what Jesus says to the disciples both before and after his death: stay awake to one another because the rest is just noise. While we might need to address that noise from time to time, I need to get better at recognizing when it is time to engage. Not every post/comment is worth damaging the relationships we need to have with one another.