I must admit, on Tuesday, before lent started, the idea of all of this fasting and abstention filled me with a sort of gloom, a sort of adolescent, “do I have to?” internal whine. I had at that point already decided to not only give up coffee but to also give up purposelessly scrolling through and consuming social media. And on Tuesday, as I did this exact, mindless scrolling, I came across a post in which someone was asking for prayers for people who don’t have heat in their homes or don’t have homes at all. “See?” I thought to myself. “I might miss important prayer requests if I don’t scroll through twitter regularly, like every fifteen minutes.” But just as swiftly as I had that thought, I had the answer, “If I am relying on twitter to remind me to pray and for what to pray, then surely it is not my twitter life that needs more time and attention but my prayer life.” I don’t need the crutch of twitter.
We’re only a few days into it, but already the effects of abstaining have been profound. I still have my phone in hand at almost all times. I still check my email, often, and I still will post things on occasion, but I don’t consume the images and tweets. So once I’ve gone through that routine, and my phone is still in my hand, what do I do? Sometimes I write. Sometimes it’s just a sentence or two. Sometimes it’s a whole paragraph. And other times I simply put down my phone. I might pick up my knitting or pray or do some chores or pay some attention to my kids.
That last one is a tough one to reckon with: that my attention has been elsewhere when it could have been on my kids. When I mentioned that I wouldn’t be mindlessly scrolling through social media for lent, Ms10yo exclaimed, preternaturally, “More time for us!” Those minutes here and there had been stealing my focus away from them, little by little. It didn’t feel like much at the time, but it was. Here’s an example. On Monday, she had bought a yard of cloth from the discount bin at the fabric store for 3 bucks. She asked, in passing, whether I’d be able to teach her how to hem it at some point so that she could cut it and make a shawl. I said sure and promptly forgot about it. Enter the lenten season. Today, I was playing cards with Ms6yo when Ms10yo asked if she could bring the sewing machine upstairs and would I teach her how to hem on it. My initial feeling was, “This is going to be such a drag.” But, without social media scrolling, what else was I going to do? So I walked her through the steps in between hands of go-fish and crazy 8s and, eventually, getting Mr22mo up from his nap. She’s pretty capable of doing a lot of things on her own, including threading the sewing machine, with very little guidance. Tonight was the Knights of Columbus Father-Daughter dance. “If I get this done in time for the dance, it will be a miracle!” she told me as she stood in the laundry room ironing and pinning her hems. “Well, you can always try praying,” I told her and we looked up who the patron saint of sewers is (Saints Ann, Lucy, and Veronica all came up). As luck (and prayer) would have it, she finished the whole project in under two hours and with more than enough time to bring it to the Father Daughter Dance. It sat predictably, unused, on the back of her chair for most of the evening. But the shawl wasn’t the point. Making the shawl was the point.
Still, I wonder if all it has taken is these two days of putting down my phone more often to make my kids feel like I’m more available and for them to ask for my help or to consider projects that they might previously not have asked to do. I’ll guess I’ll never really know, but I’m grateful to have this now.
In today’s Gospel according to Matthew, “The disciples of John approached Jesus and said, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.”
This gospel begs me to ask the question, “When is a fast not a fast?” The answer: “When it doesn’t feel like one.” When we remove that with has no meaning, that vacuum becomes filled with that which does. When the bridegroom is with us, what started as a fast quickly and easily transforms into a feast. And for this I am grateful.