Lent: Embracing a Smaller World
Three days ago, my world became a bit smaller. This year for the season of Lent I felt compelled to “give up” excess phone applications for these weeks leading up to Easter. With a newborn at home, I have more unstructured time than is normal and I have found myself defaulting to Apple News, Instagram and Amazon shopping as well as a multitude of other distractions all conveniently accessible in my pocket device. For the forty-day duration of lent I am deleting these apps, although for the sake of survival in our modern world, I opted to keep Google Maps as I would be lost (literally and metaphorically) without this particular tool.
All that’s to say, I am a mere 72-hours into this practice and my world has already grown remarkably and uncomfortably small. As I sit and write this at a neighborhood coffee shop, the folks one table over discus the record-breaking stock market tumble due to Coronavirus concerns. I had no idea. My mom sends me a text (yes, I kept iMessage) to inform me that according to Facebook one of our good friends just gave birth to healthy twins. I didn’t know.
As I sit in the discomfort of this smaller sphere, I am mindful of the places in scripture where God intentionally invites God’s people to downsize the scope of their world:
Don’t eat from this particular tree! God instructs the first man and woman. (Genesis 2:17)
Don’t harvest the entire field! God commands Israel. (Leviticus 23:22)
Take nothing for the journey! Jesus tells his disciples as he sends them out into the world. (Luke 9:3)
At first glance these instructions can seem arbitrary. However, they have taken on new meaning as I consider them in light of this Lenten time. The season of Lent (Latin for “fortieth”) is intended to mirror the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness. The book of Matthew tells us that it was God’s spirit that led Jesus to this place. The word translated wilderness, means “a desolate, solitary place.” In other words, God invites Jesus into a smaller world- a world with less.
It’s in this place of relative smallness that I’m becoming increasingly aware of how my own consumption mentality (More information! More stuff! More!) has become a space of bland comfort and perpetual want; a balm that momentarily relieves my increasingly anxious heart.
This practice of intentionally making my world small, has revealed the true role of these distractions with utter clarity. I, unlike Jesus, take the bait of temptation when my spirit is tired, insecure, lonely or fearful. It is difficult to see how much I depend on Instagram for entertainment, affirmation and connection when I am engaging with it multiple times per hour. Take it away, however, and the depth of my dependence is immediately manifest by how automatically my thumb swipes across the little screen. I am a full three days into this technology-less wilderness and I still am mindlessly searching for this deleted dopamine source. I feel antsy and restless without it.
The question stirring in my spirit is this: What would it look like, Abby, for you to make your world smaller this Lent? To sit with your angst and restlessness instead of consuming it away? What would be at risk if you were to acknowledge your limitation, instead of drowning your discomfort or fear in a sea of information, affirmation and entertainment?
Following the initial wilderness temptation, Jesus responds to the devil, “One does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). I have been meditating on these words for the last few days. I begin my morning by thinking about them for five minutes. I bring them to mind when I pick up my smartphone and remember my door to the big world is momentarily shut. I love the dichotomy at work here. By entering a smaller world without literal bread, Jesus embraces a much deeper, richer source of life. In making his world smaller, Jesus hears with greater clarity, sustaining words from the mouth of God, words he might not hear with a plate of literal bread in front of him. By intentionally embracing severe hunger, Jesus finds himself surprisingly full.
Perhaps the real invitation of Lent is not simply to “give up” but to make our worlds intentionally smaller so that God can reveal Godself as the true source of peace and strength in each of our stories. Perhaps God wants us to hear, once again, great truths that have been dulled in an age of excess, accessibility and bigness.
How might you make your world a bit smaller this Lent?