Friday, February 20, 2009


Next week is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, and I've been thinking about what to give up. People say that for things to be "living sacrifices," we should give up that which is "most alive in us," or else it's not really worth giving up. There's no point in giving up coffee if you don't drink coffee. But giving up something that will be a noticeable, even painful absence in your life can be far more significant and transformative. In past years I've stopped getting new books for Lent (including library books, comic books and other books), and I think I might do that again, to focus on getting through books I already own.

But the most "alive" consuming obsession in my life right now is probably Facebook. Now that I have 643 Facebook friends, there's a critical mass of constant status updates that can take hours to scroll through, especially if I click through all the various links that are highlighted or stop to comment or look at pictures or whatnot. I need to remind myself that I got along just fine without knowing the day-by-day goings-on of all my old friends and classmates. My irrational fear is that I'll miss out on something important, but the reality is that it's really not a big deal if I don't read everybody's Facebook status all the time. (See this Boston Globe article about how technology means that we are never alone anymore, and that's a problem.)

Another dimension is the fact that how we use Facebook can be spiritually unhealthy. There's a great discussion going on right now at The Mommy Revolution, triggered by the post "Carla is Jealous of your Facebook Status." Often our posts are designed to show off some aspect of our lives, and this can generate envy, discontentment, resentment, etc. I blogged a while ago about the different kinds of Facebook statuses, and I have to confess that some of my statuses are shamelessly self-promotional. (My current status is "Al will be his undergrad alma mater's commencement speaker this May. Figuring out what to say besides "Congrats, and good luck finding a job in this economy...") So I might have to start limiting my Facebooking. I'm not sure I'll drop it entirely, but at the very least it shouldn't be the first thing I check every morning.

More significantly, though, I've been thinking about the dynamics of God pruning things out of our lives. There are various ways of interpreting and applying John 15, some more ecclesial and others more individual. But here's a personal implication of the Father pruning branches that don't bear fruit. Some areas of my life are overgrown, and I spend entirely too much time on some things that detract from my potential fruitfulness elsewhere. To mix biblical metaphors, my life has weeds that crowd out the good seed, and I need to be both pruned and weeded.

Giving up things for Lent is something internal we do of our own volition, but it strikes me that pruning and weeding are external activities that are done by God to us. And I've been noticing some areas of pruning in recent months. I had a few speaking engagements that were cancelled (I think partly because of the economy), and though this was not really that big a deal, it felt like a bit of a pruning, that I'm not called to be a big-time conference speaker or whatnot. My Christianity Today column ended, and even though I knew in advance that it was just a one-year stint for 2008, that felt like another pruning - drop the magazine writing. I also dropped one of my doctoral classes for the spring because of the amount of space and time I would have needed to do it adequately. And I've been increasingly feeling like this blog is something that is inadvertently getting pruned. I intended to blog more from NPC last week, but just didn't get to it. I just don't feel like I have as much to say that's worth blogging about. Maybe because I waste too much time on Facebook!

So, all this to say that this Lenten season will probably be a time of scaling back, both by external circumstance and internal choice. This mid-thirtysomething season is a time of realizing that doing some things means that I can't do others. Life is full enough as it is, between work and family and church and school and everything else. I need to stop being so spread out and let myself be pruned somewhat so I can go deeper and be more fruitful overall.


Chip Gorman said...

Slowing down is good.

The Facebook phenomenon still surprises me from the standpoint of adults getting into it. My kids have adult "Facebook friends" (members at our church) and they are always telling me that these adults seem to have a lot of time to socially network and keep their status current. I haven't gotten into it because I may have no friends :-( but more because I can't take another time sucker in my life. Whenever I feel compelled to even post a comment, I recall this comic I read a year or so ago:

Gives me pause...

Mark said...

I stumbled across your blog recently and have greatly enjoyed it! I benefitted from what you had to say about pruning. I also enjoyed your post on the facebook status and it inspired me to write my own blog about it. If you have the chance, here is the link:

Pilgrim said...

As a non-Catholic, I find it interesting how functional that abstention for Lent could be. It takes forty days to form a habit.
* * * *
From the news, it seems the whole country is going a big pruning season right now.

ddhoffman said...

I've been following your blog for a while now Al, mostly after enjoying your book that was recommended by a few friends. I'd love to hear more about NPC. I thoroughly enjoyed your first post on the topic.

Dianne said...

Well I totally relate to the need to cut some things out. But I would be sad if it was your blog that got the shears! I do enjoy your perspective.

Facebook - totally weird phenomenon. Not loving it!

Lesley Miller said...

I've stumbled upon your blog several times over the's about time I added you to my Google reader!

I've been pondering giving up Facebook too. Right now, I think I'm settling on checking it once per week during the Lenten season (on Sundays) to make sure I'm not missing any messages that are urgent. I'll let you know how it goes!

Laura said...

Great idea, Al. Maybe I'll do that too. The convenience has started to feel like a dependence sometimes.

Foggy Blogger said...

In regards to staving off facebook, you may want to read this blog as a balance:

While i understand the whole need to limit things, the problem with limiting Facebook is that oftentimes its out of selfishness. Whats more convenient for me or my goals. In the West, especially for younger generations we have very limited time for face to face community, so Facebook has become that community for many. Where before you'd find out how people were doing in your day to day life, now the only way i know what my friends are doing is through their facebook status' (stati?). In addition it seems that we've forgotten what true community is! Its not a warm fuzzy, convenient feeling. Its a mess! But like love and marriage, when you have healthy community, the rewards are great, but the pain can be deep too.

It seems that as christians we are to be in community with one another. Must we focus solely on God but at the sake of our community? Or will you replace facebook time, with face to face time? That seems to me to be more of what God desires. (Toss in scriptural reference here)

I think the question for Lent shouldn't be "what must i give up?" but instead be "what must i do?"

Just some thoughts from a far less learned one...