Sometimes it takes a fast to really see what's causing too much noise in your life.
I was pretty excited about Lent last year. Following a couple of less-than-stellar Lents in recent years, my husband and I were ready to lead our six kids in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and to persevere through Lent for the long haul – and a long Lent it was, for us.
So we compiled our standard list of Lenten goals – cut back on sweets or favorite treats, fast from negative comments, drink unsweetened coffee, cut out alcohol, schedule time to make a food bank donation, and so on. And we did … okay. Like I said, it was a long Lent, and the enthusiasm for apple slices in place of buttered popcorn or cookies waned well before Holy Week.
But in spite of our small sacrifices, efforts at extra prayer with the kids, and reminding them to fill the bean jar with their good works, it still felt like something was missing. It seemed like the physical efforts were there, but our minds and hearts hadn’t changed much. Even though we had cut back on TV watching at the beginning of Lent, there was still too much noise around. So a week before Easter, like a runner taking her last desperate strides towards the finish line, I made the unpopular decision to turn off the TV and all screens completely — the only exception being computer access necessary for school-related work.
After the howls of protest from our 6-year-old died down, an amazing thing began to happen. Our children’s hearing began to improve noticeably. Sisters who had been snapping at one another discovered that beating the boredom was more fun together and began to play more cooperatively. The level of sibling conflict went down. Everyone read more. The level of peace in our home went up. Kids who could previously not “find anything to do,” managed to find new games or creative projects to enjoy.
Not only that, but conversation improved too. Truth be told, turning away from screen time was as much a sacrifice for me as for the kids. When something is removed, the void must be filled. It took extra effort on my part to allow messy supplies to be used more often. It took extra time on my part to be more fully present to my children, to be available as they baked and painted and pulled out neglected toys, and to help them more with their projects. The TV, as we all know, is an effective babysitter. But overall we were all better off, and even the kids could see the difference. As our 7-year-old craft-loving daughter said, “Mom, it’s better with no technology.” Me: “What do you mean?” Her: “It’s more … fun.” Yes it is, indeed.
With Easter came my son, with an expectant look on his face, excited that the cruel starvation diet of no technology was over. But the fruits were too good to slide back into our old ways. Sometimes it takes a fast to help us see clearly. We exposed the thief and brought him to justice in our home.
Our Lenten fast from technology opened our eyes to something – perhaps the main thing – that was really keeping us from drawing closer to the Lord. It also made room for a clear-headed re-evaluation of our technology use. We do still allow a certain amount of screen time, but it’s less than it was. It helped us become masters, instead of slaves, of our screens.
Technology can add amazing convenience, help, education, and entertainment to our lives. But if we – or our children – are really struggling to put our phones down or turn off the TV, those devices are doing exactly what they are designed to do – increase our cravings and appetites.
Lent is here, and curbing our use of technology is part of my family’s “fasting plan.” I’m looking forward to the peace it will bring!