By AnnieLaurie Walters, MBC Loudoun Attendee
Growing up as a Southern Baptist in West Tennessee, I never really knew much about observing Lent. I scarcely recall seeing anyone with ash on their forehead until I moved to Washington, DC and began working on Capitol Hill. At St. Joseph’s on the Hill (located directly across from Hart Senate Office Building), Ash Wednesday could possibly be a bigger day than Christmas and Easter Sunday combined!
My first Ash Wednesday on the Hill, I was so fascinated by all the people around me who, apparently, observed Lent. I actually felt I was in the minority because I didn’t have the cross of ash swiped across my brow. I even had a few folks ask me, “Aren’t you religious? Don’t you observe Lent?” My deep Southern roots didn’t quite prepare me for questions like that! This naturally led to some investigating and educating on my part, to learn more about Ash Wednesday, Lent and what it all had to do with Easter.
In my investigating, I began to understand that many of my friends, of all denominations and even non-denominational, observed Lent as a way to practice self-denial and focus on eternal things leading up to Holy Week and Easter. In my religious tradition, the teaching on fasting was as scarce as fasting itself. So over the years, I continued researching this important, yet sometimes neglected, Christian discipline. I’ve since practiced fasting a few times, specifically in relationship to my participation in mission trips.
But I have never engaged in a fast lasting longer than a day at most (sundown to sundown). I have wanted to. I have prayed about it. But I never did it. At one point I thought I should be “led” to fast, and while the Bible does not expressly command Christians to fast, I am not sure that we should wait on specific “leading” to do what appears to be a beneficial thing for all Christians. Fasting and prayer went hand-in-hand for Jesus, and if my goal, as His disciple, is to follow His ways, then perhaps I need to examine why fasting isn’t already a normal part of my walk with the Lord, rather than wonder “if” I should.
I recently read a book about identifying areas of excess, in life and made simple choices to fight back against the modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence. The book discussed fasting each month to “deny oneself” in different areas of perceived excess including: media, shopping, food, waste, and more.
In the process of reading this book, I decided to do a fast of my own. I prayerfully decided to refrain from engaging in all forms of social media for Lent. “Social media” meaning all of it: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and writing on my personal blog.
This is not an original concept. I am one in a very long line of people who have taken a social media “break” so I know I am in good company here. But for me, I am at a point where I want to go deeper in my walk with the Lord. When I asked Him to search my heart — specifically relative to areas of excess in my life — He was crystal clear with me that the most significant area of excess in my life right now is time spent on social media. I recently had this thought, that one day when I stand before the Lord, He may look at me and say, “Really AnnieLaurie? Really?? You spent THAT MUCH TIME on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.” at the expense of other things that have much more value — especially “in real life” relationships and experiences?
I am definitely not arguing that social media is “bad” or something from which we should refrain. In fact, I believe that social media is an amazingly powerful tool with potential to accomplish much good if used in healthy and appropriate ways. There is no question that social media is now a standard for how the world communicates. But just like so many other good things in life, if left unchecked, social media can easily become an idol, taking the place of God in our lives.
In the short time that I’ve been unplugged from my personal social network, it has become shamefully apparent that, in many areas of life, I turn to Facebook before I turn to the Lord. My first day offline I found myself instinctively going to check Facebook more times than I care to admit! I am realizing how easy it is to become “addicted” to the world of social media, allowing these interactions to insufficiently meet needs that can only be met by the Lord. The scary part is that I never would have realized it if I hadn’t taken this self-imposed break, giving up social media for Lent.
When this time of fasting is complete and I return to social media, my prayer is that I will return with clear boundaries in place to ensure that I keep God first and turn to Him to meet my needs rather than relying on my social network. I am infinitely thankful that the Lord led me to do this during Lent. This is the perfect time for reflection, confession and repentance as Eater approaches; giving me even more time to focus on the most important relationship I have: my relationship with God through Jesus Christ.