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Quick show of hands: how many of you out there gave up something for Lent?
Okay, now, Catholics put your hands down. See, that's what I thought.
I grew up Catholic, and so observing Lent was just a part of what I did for the first part of my life. Usually, what I chose to give up was something that wasn't exactly a vice, but maybe a bad habit. Big surprise - not a lot of 12-year olds need to concentrate on staying away from single malt scotch. One year, I tried to give up swearing, and would put a dollar in a shoe box for every time I messed up. About a week later, that dropped to a quarter, then a dime. It was around Labor Day before I'd paid back everything I owed.
But for the last 15 years or so, I have made a point of giving something up for the six or so weeks leading up to Easter Sunday. At first, falling back on old ways, I would just choose to drop a habit, like Starbucks.
And, for the record, that shoe box is not nearly as full as it once was.
But, for the last couple years, I tried finding things to eliminate from my life that are what I would charitably describe as "massive, soul-sucking, headache-inducing, time wasters."
Yup, you guessed it - social media.
Actually, it's not just social media that fits that description, but for me, that is a big one. I would still pop on to Facebook to post things I'd written, and other professionally-related items (or to brag about my family members), but, other than that, I put my phone away and stopped wasting my time looking in on the worlds of people in my "feed."
At first, there is always a temptation to hit that icon on my phone, mostly just out of habit. Check my messages, check my mail, check my Facebook and Twitter feeds - that's become so habitual that I can probably do it without even looking down at my phone. But, after a couple weeks, the temptation became "what's going on in the world?" and the endless voyeuristic need to see pictures of other peoples' dinners and cats. At some point, somebody asks "did you see what Johnny posted yesterday?" and, of course, I hadn't, so I would want to try to keep up with what was "trending."
But after all that runs its course, do you know what I discovered? That this thing, this tool for staying in touch with other people and with the world around us, is very much something I can do without, and that staying off of it buys me about 30 extra minutes in every day.
I think we all have our things that soak up inordinate amounts of time and attention for very little purpose. For me, it's electronic entertainments; for some, it may be something chemical; for others, maybe their time-waster is something like family drama. Whatever it is, I'll bet if you disciplined yourself to avoid that for some period of time - say, 40 days and nights - you would find that you can really run your life very nicely without it. Sure, the origin of this practice is spiritual, but there are a million pragmatic benefits to such a practice.
Which, come to think of it, is actually true for all of the great spiritual practices.
Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His novels are available at MichaelJAlcorn.com
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