A mom learns the importance of keeping one's penance private
One year, I attempted to offer a truly glorious sacrifice for Lent: I was going to give up Facebook. Like, give it up completely for forty days. For some people, this is no big deal, but for a stay at home mom whose main dose of adult interaction comes from the people inside the computer, this is truly a case of ‘dying to self’.
Since I’m on it so much, and didn’t want people to think I was suddenly ignoring them when I didn’t respond to their posts on my wall, I made this lovely graphic that said “Off Facebook for Lent” and set it as my cover photo. That way, anyone who went looking for me online would know that I wasn’t ignoring my friends; I was simply trying to pay more attention to Jesus.
The first few days were horrific. My kids were off the charts with bizarre behavior that begged to be shared in witty status updates. But oh no… my normal coping strategy wasn’t available to me. I offered it all up joyfully, at first. Then, the whole thing became a burning agony: my kids were no longer even slightly amusing, my husband had forbidden me to call him at work anymore unless the house was on fire or the children were bleeding, and I was pretty sure if I read “Pirate Potty” one more time, I was going to lose it.
But still, I hung on to my Lenten sacrifice; surely God was using this time of purification to work great things in my soul. I was uniting my ridiculous suffering with Jesus’ salvific Passion on the Via Dolorosa. By Easter, I was going to be so full of graces, I would practically have glory radiating off my skin. I would glow in the dark with Christ’s reflected majesty.
All this changed the next time I met with my spiritual director. We exchanged small talk for a few moments, then she dropped the bombshell.
“You know,” she said, “I keep seeing all these people online who have posted pictures telling everyone they’re giving up Facebook for Lent.” I nodded, wondering where she was going with this. I hadn’t discussed my Lenten plans with her beforehand, but she’d obviously had seen my announcement. She paused for a moment then her voice grew hesitant and troubled. “And I feel so sorry for them, because by telling people what they’re giving up for Lent, they’re forfeiting the graces they would have received.”
My whole body went numb. My heart stopped, yet strangely I could still hear blood rushing through my ears.
“They… what?” I managed weakly.
“By announcing their sacrifices, they’re just like the people Jesus talked about in the Ash Wednesday Gospel reading. They get their reward here on earth through people’s responses to their sacrifice, and that’s it. No graces. No heavenly reward.”
And BOOM – just like that, my Lent went from bad-but-worth it to the absolute worst ever and all-for-nothing. What could I do? If I went back to Facebook now, people would think that I’d abandoned my Lenten discipline, and what kind of message would that be sending to people? “Hey, Facebook acquaintances, all this religion stuff that I talk about all the time? This Jesus that I claim is the best thing ever and this faith I claim is so amazing? Yeah, none of them are worth giving up Facebook for.”
But on the other hand, why the heck would I continue with a fast that was no longer pleasing to God? I wasn’t getting any graces to help ease the struggle. There would be no glory radiating off me, X-Men style, come Easter, since I’d gotten my reward in the form of Facebook comments.
Like I said – worst Lent ever. In retrospect, I could have done a million things differently, but the biggest takeaway I got from the whole lesson was this: Don’t give up Facebook for Lent.
Just kidding (but not really). The real lesson was, “Keep your dang mouth shut.” Which, for me, is probably the hardest sacrifice of all.
Cari Donaldson is a wife, homeschooling mother of six, and maker of pretty mean sandwiches. When her tiny overlords allow it, she blogs at Clan Donaldson.