Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday is not New Year's

Yesterday as the last few hours of Mardi Gras passed and Ash Wednesday approached, I noticed an odd spike of activity on Facebook and Twitter. “See you on April 20!” “Enjoying my last Coke for 40 days!” “No more chocolate until after Easter!” Facebook, video games, alcohol, soda, sweets…I seem to know how everyone is observing Lent. And that really bothers me.

Isn’t a public declaration of penance missing the point? Matthew 6:6: “When you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Posting about what you personally decided to give up during Lent seem to treat the choice like 1. a perky New Year’s resolution (maybe I got that vibe from all the exclamation points) or 2. a prideful declaration to show off how spiritual and liturgically-minded you are (maybe I got that vibe from the surprising number of Baptists posting). You’re observing Lent? Good, you should be observing Lent.

1. This isn’t a New Year’s Resolution. Don’t give up fast food so you can lose weight. Give up fast food so you can donate that saved money to a charity. Don’t give up social media so you can break a bad habit. Give it up so you can spend more time in prayer. This isn’t 40 days of self-help. It’s 40 days of spiritual house cleaning and preparation for Easter. If your act isn’t focused on God (through prayer, charity, or reconciliation) than it’s not Lenten.

2. It seems to have become a fad to give something up for Lent, and it seems to have caught on without an explanation of the season accompanying it. Most people don’t know that there are 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Sundays are always mini-Easters, and therefore, not Lent. Money saved from fasting is supposed to go to charity. Again, it’s a season of spiritual improvement. If giving up Twitter helps toward that, then fine. But beginning the season with a “See you in 40 days!” and ending it with a “I’m back!” does not reflect that. 

Some people post that they are giving up social media so that people don’t try to contact them through that means. That I understand. I also understand sharing what you are giving up with your family or friends that you spend the most time with for accountability or food preparation reasons. But for the most part, an act of penance should be personal. 1,500 followers don’t fit in your inner room.

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