One really shouldn’t take up a Lenten discipline out of exasperation. But that’s what happened to us this year. Jared was out of town, and I was well and truly fed up with our little addictions and dependencies – mine as much as the kids’. I sent Jared a text, saying “We’re giving up sugar and screens for Lent!” To my surprise, he replied, “Okay.”
I didn’t want to write about our Lenten intentions, for the very good reason that Jesus discouraged such things, and he is quoted as such in the Ash Wednesday service that kicks off Lent every year. Now that Lent is over, and we have lots of failures under our belt, I don’t mind telling you all about it. I’m feeling the need to reflect on what we learned, even as we reintroduce our favorite vices into our lives.
We were unanimous on one point: giving up sugar was easier. I enjoy the creative challenge of making appetizing food under certain restrictions. The kids complained sometimes, and occasionally asked when Lent would be over, but for the most part they accepted the lack of dessert and sugary breakfasts as their temporary reality. We were not perfect – there was lots of substituting maple syrup, and I lost the battle over ketchup. For me, the biggest win was saying goodbye to those mid-morning sugar lows that hit me hard on cereal days.
Screens were harder. Much harder. Our lives are too bound up with screens to give them up entirely, but the kids and I gave up recreational screen use. I left my phone plugged in next to my bed as much as possible. For the kids, no screen time at all.
The kids saw the most benefit, I think. Even though it was cold, and most of their days were spent indoors, they spent so much time just… playing.
Jared and I didn’t do as well. I won’t speak for him, but I left myself enough exceptions that it was still an issue. I stopped reaching back to check my pocket after a couple of days, but I still let myself use the phone as much as I wanted to when I happened to be by the bed. Still, this was a dramatic reduction from how much I had been pulling it out before.
For myself, I think the biggest benefit of reduced phone time is reduced FOMO. With less exposure to the world of Facebook and Ravelry and email, and even the beloved Wool n’ Spinning community, I’m not constantly inundated with other peoples’ priorities and values and projects. I so easily get caught up in what seems like a great idea that I’ve seen somewhere, and then I’m buried in a mound of half-finished projects that I feel beholden to before I can address my own ideas. I’m still like that, very much so, but… it’s a little less. I’m more able to ask, what do I want to be working on? What are my priorities, my values in my work? What makes my heart sing? And while it isn’t a bad thing to be excited by something because you’re included in a group doing something together, what do I care about even if no one else is doing it, and no one else ever sees it?
During Lent, we had another week with Jared away. I was worried about how that would go without our usual treats, but it was fine. Since it wasn’t an option, we didn’t stress about it. We took long baths, we made our favorite non-sugary dinners, we read many chapters of the Little House books curled up in Mama and Daddy’s bed. It wasn’t easier, but it wasn’t really harder either.
Now that Easter is here, our restrictions have lifted – Jared calls it “the re-sugaring of the Osborns.” It’s very interesting seeing things return to normal, with a little more moderation. I notice in myself that desire to solve stresses and problems by applying calories and pixels to it, looking for that fix that feels like a deep breath. I’m trying not to judge myself for those inclinations, just… notice them. And ask myself a little more often, what is really going on?
I think – think, mind you – that my biggest failure in Lent was in making these disciplines about our lifestyle, and not about our relationship with God. Addictions are spiritual, and addressing addictive tendencies is appropriate Lenten work. But I did not get the sense that we engaged with the part of that work that is taking those needs to Jesus, instead of our coping mechanisms. This meant that I usually just subbed these coping mechanisms for other, more virtuous-looking ones.
I do not say this to be hard on myself, but because examination of conscience is part of this work too. I am also reminding myself that I can do that work without being negative or judgmental towards myself. Observe oneself soberly, then accept oneself completely, because that’s what God does.
Lent is bookended now by Jared’s third and final trip of the spring. Screens and sugar are back on the menu, and having the door open changes the equation. But it’s better. There’s no more negotiating about dessert. Screen time for the kids is shorter and on fewer days. I don’t pull out my phone as much. I notice that giving in to the treats too much makes things harder, not easier.
I see how much my knee-jerk reaction is “no.” For an Easter discipline, how about I look at that some more – learn to hold back that “no” until I’ve really considered it. If Lent was a time to say “no” to sin, it seems right to take Easter to do the other half of the work that I didn’t make space for in Lent: saying more “yes” to God.
How was your Lent? What went well, what went badly? What does this Easter season look like for you?