I grew up Catholic – the American suburban variety where we went to church on Sundays – sometimes - said grace before dinner and loved to celebrate Easter. I confess that I relished the Easter Egg Hunt quite a bit more than the scratchy dresses and long services we endured, because the pay off was a very big basket of chocolate and candy hiding in some odd, out-of-the-way corner of the house (my dad loved to write clever clues and have us truly hunt for the treasure).
We also recognized Lent – the forty-day period before Easter set aside to prepare one’s heart for the High Holy Day – by being encouraged to “give something up.” That something was often chocolate or candy, a small sacrifice that made the chocolate bunny seem even bigger and better when it was finally in hand and ears in mouth.
It is a custom that I’ve continued as a practicing Christian.
I’ve given up coffee and chocolate, TV and eating out. One year I tried giving up “being right.” That didn’t last very long. The adherence to this discipline is one that really is just between you and God. If it does nothing else, it does promote the idea that God is involved with your choices on an intimate level. Fasting, as it is known at different times of the calendar year, along with other forms of self-sacrifice are common expressions found in most religions for this reason.
While food and drink are commonly abstained from in observance of Lent, this year I have given up Facebook. I've even removed the app from my phone. Not because I am getting skeptical about social media practices – of which I am – but because it keeps me distracted from the present.
You see, giving up coffee or some other ‘treat’ you have in your diet can make you become aware of the pull that substance has over you. Are you really enjoying and rewarding yourself? Or have you put some substance in your life that without it, you don’t feel right, don’t know what to do.
And that is what my phone is somehow becoming in my life. I reach for my phone out of boredom more than out of need. Of course, I console myself that there’s so much going on that I need to stay in contact with someone – anyone - for my life to matter and be relevant.
I look at my friend’s lives and “like” what they are doing. But how can I like something that affects me in no way whatsoever? Perhaps, I just want to feel as though I am likeable and liking others. But, I’m not really – unless this virtual world is replacing the one in front of us.
I heard the most interesting term the other day – JOMO – Joy of Missing Out. You are probably familiar with its better known acronym, FOMO – Fear of Missing Out. The idea of FOMO, of course, is that when we feel others are involved or enjoying something meaningful and we are not, we will develop a feeling of anxiety or fear. And fear doesn’t just sit in the corner of our heart waiting patiently for us to fill it back up. Oh no, fear grows into an appetite that somehow makes us feel like we must feed it. We must fill it. We must quiet it in whatever way we know how to do.
But what if Joy was sitting there, in the corner of our hearts? Joy when we didn’t get included the way we somehow felt we wanted to. What if this practice of Lent or fasting could somehow train us to understand that we don’t always need to have what others have. That what we have is enough. Another word for that is contentment.
So I’m taking this break from social media and the inevitable comparisons that come when we spend a big chunk of our time scrolling over the highlights of other people’s day to be present in my own life. Because joy isn’t just going to appear out of nowhere. Joy, I believe, it what we cultivate when we put down the need to impress others with how good we are and celebrate the highs AND the lows of our own life.
Joy comes when we realize that rainy days make us appreciate the sunny ones. That cold, barren winter gives way to soul-greening spring. That missing out doesn’t define us, it matures us. The scripture is very clear on this point:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4
Joy when we’re missing out?
Joy when we’re missing out – knowing and trusting that this process of delayed gratification will make the reward so much sweeter.
How about you? I’d love to hear if you observe Lent in any special way.