As a storm approaches here in March, late for Chicago, my mind wanders ahead to planting the garden, taking the kids to the park, and all the promise Spring holds. It also brings to mind that Easter is on its way, and to the practice I began a few years ago of giving something up for Lent. This was not a common practice in my Evangelical church upbringing, but I've grown to look forward to it.
For the past few years I have gone on some form of "media fast" during Lent. I've tried several variations. Cold turkey. A complete fast of some forms of media but not all. Last year I experimented with a "conscious" fast, which I found really helpful. By conscious, I mean to say that I sought to make active choices throughout my day. When I had just done a complete fast of everything, I made the choice once--at the beginning--and then the thrust of the whole 40 days was staying in line with my resolution. Will power. Nothing wrong with this, but I found the active nature of being highly selective helped me to engage my mind more day to day.
Throughout each day I would be faced with making choices. Is this really what I want to do next? Do I really want to watch this specific TV show, or am looking for a diversion from my own thoughts and mind, even a diversion from actively spending time with those I love? Why do I want to turn on the radio the second I get into this car.am I just afraid of being alone with myself and my Lord? Most of the time, I do a lot of these things without thought or active decision-making. Instead, I allow myself to be constantly surrounded with what my pastor calls "electronic wallpaper."
A strange thing happens almost every year following Lent. Maybe it's not strange, but just a sign of my divided heart. As is typical whenever people change a deep-rooted pattern, I go into withdrawal for the first few days. I drive around in silence, trying to pray or just be still with my thoughts. I am a little jittery in the stillness, as if I've been drinking too much coffee. After a several days, I get accustomed to it. I don't miss the constant drone. I don't miss the TV shows I've grown so used to mindlessly watching, or the talk radio guys who keep me company in my solitary home office. I sort of miss some of my music.
Though, I'll remind you that this is not a cold-turkey fast. I am making conscious choices throughout my day. So if I really want to listen to a particular CD, I will. There is freedom. The virtue of this method, I believe, is that it provides some training into the way I think God wants us to live all the time--with a consciousness about how we are using our precious time and a heightened awareness of the content of what we are consuming. We hear great music with new ears, appreciating it all the more. And the ugliness and idiocy of what we've been pouring into our minds is shown to us again to be unworthy of us.
Our senses are tweaked in a way that I believe God desires us to be using them. He wants us to appreciate the artistry of great music. I don't believe He disapproves of every television show on the airwaves. He just desires that we live consciously, that we heighten our selectivity, that we learn to make good choices.
Getting back to the strange thing that happens to me. By Easter, I am really enjoying this. I am feeling more connected to God, to my family, reading a lot more, playing with my kids, and listening to my own "inner voice," to use a fuzzy term. Could this quieter pattern be one of the key enabling factors in that way of life that seems so foreign to us: to "pray without ceasing?"
Then, after the Easter egg hunt for the children and chocolate bunnies--and, of course, a few marshmallow Peeps--and the big ham dinner, I find myself back in the car, post-Lent. I look at the radio dial. My hand moves toward it, then lays on my leg again. Lent is over. I can listen to whatever I want, whenever I want. I can go back to life as usual, flipping the dial at will, repapering the walls of my life with my abundant supply of electronic wallpaper. Well.yes, I can, but do I really want to? Is this what Lent has been all about: enduring a self-denial for a period of time, like not eating chocolate or drinking soda? I don't think so.
This type of fast has been more of a training period. I believe that God wants me to continue with it, to move toward making it my lifestyle. Yet, as much as I've grown to love a life with a little bit more stillness and contemplation, the force in me is strong to rejoin myself on the other side, to abandon all that I've learned in favor of the same old thing. And so I lift my hand again, and, even with some sadness, turn the dial. For some reason, it is so hard to resist.
Each year, I've returned to my old noisy way of life. Perhaps, just as this type of fast is the beginning of a process (rather than a limited 40-day procedure), so too is this year-to-year progression. Maybe God knows that changing life patterns takes more than 40 days. Maybe it takes a series of years. Maybe this year, my sense of wellness at the end of Lent will give me a little bit more strength to resist the urge to go back to the same old thing. Maybe one or two habits will not be jumpstarted quite so soon. And maybe one will be left behind altogether.