Sunday, February 17, 2013

For you are dust, and to dust you shall return

Last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season of Lent in the Catholic Church.  I attended mass in the morning where my forehead was adorned with ashes as a reminder of my humility.  As a priest or layperson puts the ashes on your forehead, they usually say “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return” which comes from Genesis 3:19.  This is a reminder of humankind’s morality and that our life on earth is just a small portion of the eternal life God has planned for each of us.  It is a wonderful service to attend regardless of your denomination.

Lent is the 40 days leading up to Easter.  It is a time of reflection and sacrifice to prepare spiritually for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Since Lent is a time of sacrifice, you often hear people ask, “What are you giving up for Lent?”  I struggle each year with this question.  When I was younger, this often meant choosing whether I would give up candy, TV, or soda for the 40 days.  As I got older though, I began thinking about the deeper meaning of the sacrifices we make during Lent.  I would question the intentions of others asking, “Why did you give up _____?”  The answer kept coming back, “Because ____ is unhealthy for me,” but I continued to see people indulge in whichever delicacy was given up as soon as Easter Sunday mass was over.   It didn’t seem like Lent was helping people form better habits.
When I got to college, the trend for Lent was to give up facebook.  While I agree, time spent on facebook can be time wasted, I again questioned the intention.  What were these people filling their time with instead of facebook for 40 days?  Were they cultivating personal relationships with others in person?  Were they setting aside time in their day for prayer and reflection?  Were they using that time to volunteer and help others?  Often times, the answer was no.  It seemed like an empty gesture. 

My favorite Lenten tradition is to buy a 40 day book of devotionals with scriptures, reflections, and prayers and read it each night.  One year, I focused on reading the daily mass readings instead of a daily devotional.  However since I was adding a good habit instead of giving something up, it was still difficult for me to answer the ever popular question of “What are you giving up for Lent?”
This year, I really wanted to focus on the sacrifice part of Lent.  It has been at least 5 years since I have actually given something up.  I struggled because I wanted it to be something with a purposeful intention.  So I turned to the internet for advice and found this site about what to give up for Lent.  One sentence on this webpage stuck with me.

“Sit down and pray about what has become a controlling factor of your life. It could easily be a food, activity, or object.” [Source]
Controlling factor?  That sounds so harsh, like something they would talk about in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.  However after some thought, I figured it out.  Lately for me, I’ve become obsessed with running and fitness and reading blogs about these subjects.  It has led to many late night internet browsing sessions and honestly was taking a toll on my sleeping schedule.  No matter how many times I told myself that I need to go to bed sooner, I couldn’t pull myself away from the endless tweets and blog posts.  I had already purchased my Lenten devotional book for 2013 and knew that reading that before bed would take some time.  I couldn’t keep up this nighttime internet habit/obsession/addiction.

So…[drumroll please]…my 2013 Lenten sacrifice is giving up internet use after 10 PM.  To some, this may sound like nothing, but to those who stay up reading blogs until late or those who take their smart phone or tablet to bed to scroll through Instagram updates (yes, I know you do this!), it is a struggle.  Our society is overrun with technology and we are so often glued to our screens and missing the beautiful simplicities of God’s creation.  I believe that by shutting down a little sooner each night, I can improve my relationship with God by creating time for extra prayer before crawling into bed exhausted.

This post is a few days late because of my new 10:00 rule.  It has been different this week when I have to put down my laptop and phone at 10 PM.  I set a daily alarm on my phone to remind me to turn everything off.  It was especially difficult on Friday and Saturday after I was out late with friends.  I have to remember that checking my email or posting a picture will have to wait until the morning.  So far, it has been liberating and my body is thanking me for the sleep.  Plus I am not rushed when I am thinking about each daily reflection.  I know I can keep this up for 40 days and hopefully continue with the habit far beyond Easter.

Please let me know in the comments, Do you give anything up for Lent? What are your intentions?

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