Busted Halo
feature: religion & spirituality
March 21st, 2012

Lent: Extreme Edition

Why giving up an unexpected but targeted trapping of modern life -- like Facebook -- could be the best thing you do spiritually all year


My boyfriend and I were in Mass last month when an announcement reminded me: Lent was coming. I nudged him, stage-whispering, “Oh no — what am I going to give up? I have two weeks to figure it out!”

He gave me The Eye. “Don’t you dare try to give up something even more extreme,” he said.

For the past few years I’d been on a path I nicknamed “Lent This Year: Extreme Edition.” I started out as a teenager by giving up a little bit more each round: candy, then chocolate, then all sweets. In 2010, I took it to another level, dropping out of Facebook completely for six weeks.

Yes, I know the “Giving-Up-X-for-Lent” model has been looked down upon in recent years by some earnest Catholics. Instead of sacrificing something, they profess the value of adding something, like giving or community service.

So, I share my experiences in defense of the idea. If you’re going to sacrifice, I’ve come to believe, the key isn’t just to swear off some little indulgence you enjoy. The greater lessons come from targeting a part of the complicated modern “lifestyle” that keeps you from simplicity … and God.

Giving up human vanity

I don’t remember how I came up with the Facebook idea — but I knew my habit had gotten bad. In any bored moment, I’d hit the home button to see if there were any little notification flags. Even if there weren’t, I’d go to my own profile page. My self-confidence was not at its highest point, after some professional challenges, and one way I took solace was through image — in thinking that I looked good or my life looked exciting and social from the outside.

Facebook, naturally, didn’t want to lose my copious page views and time-on-site. When I chose the “temporarily close my account” option, it literally asked, “Are you sure?” The next page showed pictures of my friends and me having fun. “Dillon will miss you. Melissa will miss you. Lisa will miss you,” it said. Clever devil, that Zuckerberg.

I signed off on Fat Tuesday at midnight. The first eight hours were easy (I slept). But I knew things were going to get tough the next morning when I felt compelled to count down the hours left in Lent. Eight down; 1,072 to go.

It didn’t go perfectly. In bored moments, I found myself turning to the information landfill that is Twitter. My friends had to remember to give me invitations verbally or via e-mail. And it entailed a work sacrifice; since a minor job duty of mine was pushing out content via social media, my very kind coworkers would send out the links on Facebook when needed.

By the end of the 40 days, I knew I was giving up not just a trapping of modern life, but also a mental filler for my down moments. Those moments could be better dedicated to reflection than false stimulation.

Just as importantly, I was also giving up my human vanity. How I looked on the outside became less important than how I felt on the inside; I wasn’t created to be an object of beauty and glamour, but a doer of quiet good deeds.

By Easter, I recognized that vanity for the sham it was. I signed into Facebook again … but after scanning down and down and down in my newsfeed, I realized I hadn’t missed much. I still keep a profile, partly for professional reasons, but I don’t check it nearly as often as I did.

I don’t know if I’d call it a victory for the ages, but the effects on my life of giving up Facebook have been lasting. Certainly more so than giving up chocolate. The key, I think, is deliberating choosing to sacrifice something that impedes a better practice of your faith — and that’s a sacrifice worth making at any time of year. In other words, what’s your Facebook?

The Author : Lynn Freehill-Maye
A freelance travel and lifestyle writer, Lynn likes to explore her faith through journeys — both far away and close to home. She's lived and worked in the Midwest, Southwest, Northeast, Europe, Africa, Central and South America, and now upstate New York.
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  • Maricela

    I loved the article. I know exactly how you feel since this year, I decided to give up facebook after being a member since 2005. I literally have been a member of this website since it first began and through the years, I have been so caught up in the facebook world, that I understand how it can consume your daily life. I am 24 years old and I have had fb since the age of 18. Most of my friends share this similar story, and to me facebook has become a form of communicating with friends. So when I was brainstorming want to do this year for lent I decided to give up facebook because when you log in on your phone app at least 10 times a day, I believe its time for a break. I was so overly consumed with the everyday updates of everyone that I feel it was distracting me from doing productive things in my life. Now that I am almost at the end of lent, I realize how liberating it feels not to always be constantly checking what is going on facebook. I found this website when I started lent because I actually tried to pursue and find other websites instead of always constantly log in to one. Although I would never delete my fb account because it has been apart of my life for so long. I realize that I don’t need to be consumed by the constant checking. I actually never deleted my account, but rather just never logged in since Ash Wednesday. One thing for sure that I have learned is who truly cares about me rather than this fake friendships we create on facebook. Everyone who is important in my life has kept in contact with other forms of communication. They knew that I was so into facebook that some have told me that they miss my everyday posts, and comments on their pages. I never knew how a social media website had such a impact in my life until I gave it up. 5 day more days and I will be able to log in, but now I can honestly say that I don’t feel like I need the website. I can go on being more productive with my life, and not dedicate so much time to the world of facebook.

  • Jenny

    I gave up facebook too! I felt like I needed a break from it. It’s been nice but I’ve also missed out on a few events since my friends don’t seem to use regular email anymore. Thankfully for the really important stuff (a friend went to the hospital this week) people still use phones and I got a call. If I learned a lesson from giving up facebook it’s that facebook is useful but I don’t need to check it 5 times a day to keep in touch with people.

  • Tom Gibbons

    Great job Lynn! This article gave me a lot to think about as I continue on in my own Lenten journey. Great to see you on Busted Halo!

  • Frenchy

    I did the same thing a couple of years ago and within in the same year deleted the account. It was too consuming when I had “nothing” to do. I found myself logging on and becoming frustrated by all the minute by minute updates of my friends lives or all the “one-Ups” that were posted. I focused on a Lenten website that year and by Advent found Busted Halo….Love it!! Thanks for sharing.

  • Rachel

    After much discussion, my husband and I decided to give up television during the work week this Lent. TV after work had become our Facebook. The first week of Lent, we spend several evenings kind of staring at each other going, “Well, what do we do with all this silence?” but it quickly turned to deeper conversations with each other and even occasional Bible discussions. We’ve found the last few weekends we haven’t even turned on the TV during what we pre-determined could be “date night/movie night” time. Upon realizing what we had given up, a friend recently asked me in shear disbelief, “If you don’t watch TV, what do you DO in the evenings?” I responded, “We talk to each other.” It is really wonderful, and after this Lent, we really don’t understand how we had allowed so much of something so shallow to fill up the time we could spend with and for each other. Thanks for your story, Lynn! It’s inspiring! God bless!

  • Ruth

    Thank You-insightful

  • Cp

    *”…you have given me a much needed *wake up call.”

  • Cp

    Lynn, I almost thought I was writing this post that I was readng. And here I am, supposed to be fasting from FB totally, rationalized my return to it “only to post blog updates.” – Shame on me! From this day – Today I am not going back to FB until this season is over. And as if to distract myself from the FB demands and callings, I have tuned in a bit more to my twitter account for mental stimulations too. So now, I think I am going to turn off Twitter messages from my phone, and focus focus focus on smaller, more important things which works out to be bigger. Thank you for your honesty. You just gave me a much needed waked up call. God bless

  • Jane K

    Lynn, Thank you for sharing this. It’s very very insightful. Your observation that the modern lifestyle keeps us from simplicity and God- is something that I have great concern for…especially as a mother of 5! The double edged blade of technology…is something that adults have to help younger ones to be mindful of! I would not have read this article, much less immediately shared my thoughts on it, had it not been for technology! I also agree with your sentiments on vanity and fear that social media has intensified vanity….and it’s polar opposite – yet closely related sibling of insecurity. Thanks again for writing. Jane

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