I’m probably coming from a biased perspective because I attend a Jesuit university, but it seems like more people in my life than ever before have given something up for Lent this year. Generally, I’ve found that even though Lent is rooted in Christian tradition, people generally don’t speak of it being a spiritual practice of abstinence. For example, giving up chocolate for Lent is explained as a weight-loss strategy for the quickly approaching summer season where shirts are off and bodies are out rather than a spiritual practice of self-deprivation.
Yes, Lent tends to be more of a second chance at a shorter, easier New Year’s resolution.
With that said, for the last few years I’ve avoided partaking in this season of abstinence because I’ve lost sight of the value. I’m already giving up soda because everyone in Boston is sickeningly healthy, so why get hardcore about it between March and April?
However, this particular Lenten season, refraining from abstaining was made impossible for me because one of my psychology professors embedded the ritual into one of our assignments for class. Our objective was to not visit any social media websites or open any social media applications for twenty-four hours, and then, of course, write a one thousand word essay integrating social media research with our experience.
A fairly typical assignment for a twenty-first century psychology class, but I was amazed to have surprised myself with my results.
Supposedly, social media is “transforming the nature of intimacy” by providing greater audiences to folks for their “emotional disclosure” via postings, “social support” via comments, and “life satisfaction“ via likes (I’m not kidding).  The saddest part of all is that there’s validity to it! I challenge the thirty and below age group to think of how often they check Facebook when they don’t post something, and then how often they check Facebook when they do post something. I challenge those my age to think of how it makes them feel to check any social media platform and see that they have ten or more notifications, or that one of their posts has upwards of one hundred likes.
Our happiness makes it sad.
But regardless of this “intimacy” that online social networks provide, my Day Lent fast made me realize that the most prominent reasons I use social networking on a daily basis are for my own self interest. Bored at work? Facebook. Have a funny joke, but no one’s around? Facebook. Look really great today, but no one has commented on it? Selfie, then Facebook.
While some form of intimacy might have been responsible for my initial participation in social networking platforms, it is now only a side effect of my apathetic scrolling through my newsfeeds, looking for my next way to waste my time. Sure, to some extent, it helps me to keep in touch with those who’ve come in and out of my life as I have moved from city to city. But in reality, if that were truly my main purpose for using social media, then I wouldn’t obsessively check the different platforms every hour for updates, like I was taking hits of unprescribed drugs or something.
Perhaps similarly, spiritual renewal has become a side effect of Lent. Perhaps everything is a morbidly unintended effect of our own self-interest.
And, perhaps, that’s ok.
I’m starting to think that’s the whole point of this strange month-long season. Not resolving addictions or improving yourself through denying the things you enjoy, but rather acknowledging that, every year, without fail, we can all think of something that we’d be better off without. Who knew that something was the same for all of us?
- Manago, A. M., Taylor, T., & Greenfield, P. M. (2012). Me and my 400 friends: the anatomy of college students’ Facebook networks, their communication patterns, and well-being. Developmental psychology, 48(2), 369.
- Matthew 27:11-26
Michael Kelly (’14) graduated from Calvin College with a double major in psychology and writing. Shortly after graduating, he began his graduate level study of educational research, measurement, and evaluation at Boston College. When he is not studying learning and teaching, Michael learns and teaches through stories and writing—fiction and nonfiction, comedy and tragedy, and everything else in between.