I gave up sweets for Lent this year, as I do most years. And like most years, I did a mediocre job making this sacrifice. So-and-so was visiting and brought cupcakes and it would be rude to turn them down; the frozen yogurt in the freezer would go bad if someone didn’t eat it — (false) — and besides, frozen yogurt doesn’t really count as a sweet. (Also false.)
A few weeks into Lent, however, I decided to give up something else. Facebook. The idea came to me when I was up way too late one evening, perusing the page of someone I was not friends with in either the real or virtual worlds. Feeling guilty, I reached back into my memory to a homily by Father Bob Gross, chaplain at Loras College in Dubuque. At the start of last year’s Lent, he piled his electronic devices onto a small table. Announcing that he had spent way too much money on the devices and now was spending too much time hunched over them, Fr. Gross said he had decided to give up using all of them for Lent.
I thought his message of encouragement to put the electronics down and to “look up” at the world around us was a good one. Although I wasn’t brave enough to give up all technology, Facebook seemed like a good place to start. I was, after all, up at midnight intruding into someone else’s life.
Secretly, I thought it would be easy. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with Facebook and have deactivated my account several times due to concerns about privacy or frustration over what other people deemed worthy of sharing on the World Wide Web. Although my reporter’s desire to know what is going on has always trumped my more introverted instinct to sign off, I figured I’d taken hiatuses from Facebook before and this time wouldn’t be too hard either. I clicked the “deactivate” button and walked away, proudly resisting the urge to polish off the rest of the frozen yogurt.
Twenty-four hours later, I was a mess.
I had come up with a dizzying array of reasons why I needed to sign back on right that instant. I was missing friends’ pregnancy progress updates, information from others on their efforts to fight the good fight against illness, and news of new jobs. I could and should be “liking” these various things, I told myself. I fought back this urge by signing onto Twitter, which was a failure in its own right.
A few days later, I managed — with considerable effort — to resist the temptation to sign back on and post a status update explaining to everyone why I wasn’t on Facebook. Now I had almost convinced myself people were thinking I was mad at them, as if people have time to notice one of their multitude of friends was not online.
Two-and-a-half weeks later, the frozen yogurt was long gone and I was crafting reasons about why I needed to sign back on for professional purposes. I needed to interview a source who I was certain could be reached only through Facebook. Surely it was a fluke that Woodward and Bernstein succeeded in reporting on Watergate without Facebook. Also, maybe I could take just one or two Buzzfeed quizzes about what U.S. state I should really be living in and what Saved By the Bell character I am.
Yes, I was missing Buzzfeed quizzes. I had hit rock bottom.
It was a humbling moment to realize I needed divine assistance with something as trite as a Facebook dependency. I wondered if all of this was a sign I needed to sign off entirely. But I figured the message of Lent is we don’t have to deal with anything alone if we don’t want to. And I thought of Pope Francis’ continued emphasis on the joy of life, which come to think of it, we can be pretty good at capturing on Facebook. (OK, we share bad and weird and self-important stuff too, but mostly it is all good.)
I’m sure I will make it to Easter with my Facebook fast, now that I have the answer I didn’t know I was looking for.
Facebook in moderation, and faith first.
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