For much of my life I have practiced disciplines during Lent. The practice of fasting is a discipline practiced in many of the world's leading religions, and indeed, I have found it brings me back to my spirit center in surprising and beautiful ways. It is for that reason that even in my years away from the church, I frequently developed a fasting program for myself. Lent is 40 days, long enough to take some real staying power, but short enough that I can tell myself that it's only 40 days. Whatever I have chosen has always cleared the cobwebs from my mind and my life in some way. Some years I have added something to my life like writing a thank you note a day, some I have given up something traditional like sweet baked things, others I have literally cleared the clutter by taking 40 bags of things to Goodwill or the dump in 40 days. Often times just the process of seeking what to give up has itself had impact, revealing to me the corners of my life which may need a little more care or attention than they've been given, or a calling toward action for others.
Last year, Pope Francis recommended we give up indifference for Lent, calling out our global indifference as the plague of our time. I was reminded of this a few days ago, and I've been meditating on the ways I am indifferent, and what makes indifference happen when it does. There are many things, I imagine, but one of them is clearly my pace of life. I can zoom through my days filled with messages, calls, news, meetings, kids carpools, and to-do lists and barely be present in half of what is happening. My phone is going off, my mind is letting me know I need to get to my next thing, the list is ever growing; in these times the people I am with can feel that I am not truly with them, I am in some way unintentionally indifferent. I somehow feel justified then, in “just not having time” to turn my true love and attention towards another. Really? How does that happen? When I look at life as a to-do list instead of a rich experience to be savored with joy I become indifferent. I am too occupied to put a loving hand on the child's back who is relentlessly noise making and shepherd him to a quiet solution that works for the rest of us, too busy processing life to really sit with deep compassion when I read about yet another refugee crisis, too full of to-do's to figure out a creative action I can take to participate in ending our storm of racism in this country. Whether I am so busy so that I can protect my heart from these things which are overwhelming to think about, or I have been careless in what I let in I am not sure, but I do know my Lenten discipline this year will contribute to healing that barrage of messages.
In trying to sort through this, I kept coming back to the thing that can distract in a second, and keep me in my own world separated from those I'm with for untold minutes. Sometimes the small things are the big things. My discipline this year will be to wean from my phone which has become leashed to me at all times. Here's the structure of my fast:
no checking email or social media during the first hour I'm awake or for an hour before bed
my phone will no longer reside at bedside while I sleep
all badges (those little red numbers that pop up by your icons) will be turned off for the above
one day every week (I'm picking Sunday) I will abstain from email and social media entirely.
My hope is that with this small fasting some of the clutter will be cleared from my life, allowing me to practice presence, quiet the voices screaming for my attention, and listen for gentle callings instead. Join me. No matter if you claim a religion at all, consider fasting from something for the next 40 days. I'll check back in around Easter (March 27 this year) to let you know how taking something out of my life let something else in. I'd love to hear if the same holds true for you.