Today marks the beginning of Holy Week for Christians. As the Lenten season draws to a close I am reflecting on my forty plus days of going without. This year I decided to forgo meat. A popular choice but not an easy one for me as my diet consists of 98% chicken. Perhaps this explains why my feathers are easily ruffled.
As it turned out, going meatless was relatively stress free and I wondered – how does modern day abstinence compare to times of old? It used to be that giving up meat, alcohol, sweets, or…ahem…other pleasures, was considered sacrifice enough.
Times have changed. According to a recent survey conducted by the UK Church Times, traditional Lenten abstinence is highest among students and people in their early 20s and declines steadily with age. Surprised? I was. Even more surprising is what young people choose to give up – swearing, online shopping, and social networking. Lenten abstinence takes on a whole new meaning when one announces “I’ve given up Facebook for Lent”.
My first thought – no big deal. Online shopping I could do without – God knows my credit cards could use the rest – but swearing? That might pose a few difficulties for me. Remember, I live with Cirque de Westcott. Repeat – CIRQUE DE WESTCOTT. Expletives are seldom far from my thoughts as I come to grips with my family’s latest exploits.
As for giving up social networking, consider the difficulty in trying to prise a laptop or smart phone away from a teenager. In my house that involves the use of Extreme Force and more often than not I find myself wishing I had a taser. I vividly recall a Christmas vacation spent in a lovely cottage in England without telephone or internet. The children were rabid by the end of the first day.
Has our need for constant access and accessibility become the New Vice? How often do we encounter someone without a cell phone these days? It is practically unheard of, and on the rare occasion when it does occur, we regard the individual with shock and awe, unable to comprehend how they get through the day. Forty days without whatsapp or Twitter might be a stretch after all.
Whenever I choose to ignore my telephone for whatever reason, I am rewarded by increasingly hysterical voicemail messages from family and friends: “I called, texted, whatsapped, bbmed, tweeted, and Facebook messaged you! Why didn’t you answer me?” Being “off the grid” has temporary advantages but could I do it for an extended period of time? I’m not so sure. For starters I’d never remember anyone’s birthday without Facebook. Isn’t that the purpose of Facebook? Birthday reminders and opportunities to gawp at friends’ photos?
Lent is not an endurance test. It is a chance to examine our lives and look for the temptations that we could resist. Or so I thought. According to some persons polled by the Church Times, the meaning of Lent is:
- A time for giving things up
- A Christian festival
- A diet before important holidays
- A type of tropical fish
- How the EU is keeping Greece afloat (These are real answers).
Maybe the younger generation is on to something. Traditional sensory pleasures have been replaced by the allure of the internet. In giving up the internet, social networking or even just the use of a mobile phone, this represents a real sacrifice for some. The point of the sacrifice – giving up something we really want or need – is to draw us closer to God. Perhaps next year I’ll give up Twitter; half-killing myself in the process and definitely drawing me closer to my maker.
What’s your guilty pleasure? What are you prepared to give up?
Tell me your thoughts.