A Lenten Fast

Giving up things for Lent is a time-honored tradition among Christians and takes the form of simple choices like alcohol, foods, social media and other distractions or luxuries. But in recent years, I began to discover the deeper substance of Lent and knew that sacrifice was much more than eschewing chocolate. The ritualistic ways in which we live our lives has become burdened with our selfish sadness and narcissism. In my 29th year as a teacher, I’ve watched the changes occur not just in me, or the education system or families–but in the students themselves. Yes, they have changed. And it isn’t for the better.

Our younger generations, now saddled with even more technology, more immediate gratification and a hyper-intensive focus on the always prevalent “look at me” ethos has proved ruinous. I’m tapping this idea out on my blog, a platform for writers who want to share their thoughts. When I was a teenager and writing short stories and articles, I had no immediate access to an audience. I was fortunate in that I had an opportunity to write for a local weekly newspaper where I lived and even got to appear on the radio once a week based on what I was writing. I worked for those opportunities and they became the threads that would define my future careers. But now, there is no need to work that hard. I tap it out here and link it on social media and on occasion, a few people read. It’s wonderful. But I’m not 16.

And we know that this instant gratification, whether we are adults or children, is not necessarily a good thing. But in those adolescent years, already filled with a brew of narcissism, self-doubt, lack of clarity and purpose and hormones that can’t control themselves, instant gratification can prove dangerous, even deadly.

On these front lines in public education, there is, as usual, precious little being done–or really, precious little that we can do. Schools are microcosms of the culture in which they exist. They have never been the generators of the culture, though admittedly, they are a part of it and at times, offer up created behaviors that seep back into the culture (i.e. grading performances, lecture halls, etc). But in the main, if a child is given a smart-phone and allowed to simply access the digital world, we know that left unfettered, that child is far more prone to depression and anxiety than peers who do not have such access. The speed-of-light rumor and information dissemination in young minds not prepared to process any of it provide the perfect breeding ground for the “look at me” generations to spin violently out of control as they seek to manage what is by definition unmanageable.

In the journalism classes I’ve taught, we discuss this on occasion in the form of getting facts and corroborating them. I’m not always sure it bleeds over into understanding that just because it is on the Internet, doesn’t mean it is true. But the students who have been in the class for more than a year do seem to have a bit more clarity about the idea that not every printed line is the word of God.

Which brings me back to Lent. Giving up social media accounts for the meditative darkness before Easter would be a brilliant choice for many teens and adults and I’m sure somewhere, many are doing just that. But by itself, that won’t change the world. The great terror of the modern world, a virus gone awry and spreading, wars and rumors of wars, the dark age of financial ruin, and our constant connection to it all are all merely signs that we still don’t get it. Lent should be a time when we accept that God moves through us and allows our hearts to decide. We must choose, though. He does not choose for us. That freedom, unshackled and unburdened, is tempted by so many things and the temptations in our modern age are stronger than ever. So perhaps our sacrifices should be in the form of that deep contemplation–not giving up just the material goods that have brought so much misfortune, but giving up the attitudes, feelings and actions that led our hearts astray in the first place.


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