How Giving up Your Cell Phone for Lent Is More Than an Act of Faith
This contributor advocates adding abstention from devices to that of tobacco and sweets.
Each year, one in four Americans give up indulging in one of life’s little luxuries for the period of Lent, the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday ending this year on April 18.
Lent, of course, is the time when Christians undergo a small personal sacrifice to honor the suffering of Jesus Christ.
While drinking alcohol, smoking and eating sugary treats are the vices that typically top people’s Lent lists for abstention, a newer breed of modern “guilty pleasures” has gained acceptance by the faithful who practice Lent.
These activities include taking a break from habits like TV binge-watching, video game playing and, new this year ... plastics. Indeed, clergy from places as diverse as Pittsburgh and London are encouraging parishioners to give up the irresponsible use of plastic, with Britons actually invoking a mini social-movement via the hashtag #PlasticFeeLent on Twitter.
Pope Francis himself last month urged Catholics to break free from the “clutches of consumerism,” which include the distractions our mobile devices provide, keeping us from focusing on life’s essentials. The Pope's call has more than a few people choosing to disconnect from their mobile phones.
The U.K. just conducted the first national inquiry into the impact of social media addiction on mental health, concluding that such addiction is a disease. The result is that Parliament is looking to charge social media giants like Facebook a tax that would help fund a new “Social Media Health Alliance” program.
Here in the United States, a University of Pennsylvania study this past winter linked social media use with depression and loneliness in young adults, finding that young people studied who put limits on their social media engagement reported feeling better.
There’s no question we’ve all gotten a little bit too attached to our mobile devices. And many of us are taking notice that they take up tremendous amounts of our personal time and attention, leaving us to wonder whether all this connectivity is all that healthy for us.
The benefits of abstention
In 2018, Americans spent more than five hours a day on their cellphones, according to research by Flurry Analytics According to the same study, that time wasn’t spent making calls. Nearly half of it was spent texting, checking social media feeds or being engaged with entertainment apps.
As the founder of a non-profit that shows people the benefits of detaching from electronic devices, I’ve seen a lot of good come from the exercise of "de-teching." Limiting technology lets us develop a keener perspective and a deeper appreciation for our personal and spiritual relationships. It can be a real eye-opening experience.
Taking a break from checking emails, texts and shopping promos that come across our cell phones gives us time to reconnect with others, engage in community, explore our creative impulses and execute meaningful change in our lives.
Giving up the cell phone for Lent may at first seem a challenge. But a little over a week in, many people report feeling better, more present and even happier once they take the plunge.
So what are some tips for taking a break from hand-held tech?
Enforce an actual physical separation.
One of the best things you can do is physically separate yourself from the device. Put it in a different room, so checking it becomes a true intention, not just a force of habit. This means putting the phone away during mealtimes, bedtime and, of course, when you're driving.
Check for messages and feeds only once or twice a day.
Make sure you let your friends and colleagues know to call you if it’s important and explain that you are trying to use your mobile device only for necessary calls.
Turn off distracting notifications. Uninstall any addictive game apps.
You can always re-install them after your tech break. And hopefully, you won’t have any desire to do so!
Make alternate plans.
Start making plans with all the free time you suddenly have on your schedule. The most rewarding activities involve face-to-face interactions with those friends and family members you’ve gotten into the habit of communicating only online with.
Set up outdoor activities, brunches, a game or paint night -- whatever brings you closer to other people and lets you enjoy spontaneous play.
Be mindful of your positive feelings.
Pay attention to the feelings you get from being present and aware of your surroundings. Cherish the time you have for contemplation, meditation and creative endeavors, understanding that, by only using technology when necessary and for a limited time, you are regaining your connection with the real world and all it has to offer.
If you do find yourself jumping back into a group text with friends, or responding to Facebook feeds, do so in a single session, then get right back on the abstinence track. Also, don’t waste time beating yourself up over this infraction. We’re all human. It’s what we learn from our slip-ups that really counts.
Rediscover your balance.
Cell phones and mobile devices are not inherently bad. They have made our lives much more productive and safe in myriad ways. We should be grateful for that. But at the same time, we need to be mindful of their influence over our daily lives.
Taking a break from their overuse is a good way to spend Lent. Taking a break from their overuse as a permanent lifestyle is even better. No matter what your faith or time of year, consider scheduling your own experimental break from tech.
You’ll probably pleasantly surprised by the new world it opens up for you.
Marygrace Sexton is founder and CEO of A-GAP -- a 501(c)(3) that promotes wellness by stepping away from technology -- and of Natalie’s Orchid Island Juice Company The creation of her nonprofit stems from her acute awareness of technology's adverse impacts on human relationships and professional performance. Sexton is a member of the National Women’s Business Council and was awarded the Women in Manufacturing STEP Award, which honors only 130 women each year demonstrating excellence and leadership in the manufacturing sector.