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Flunking Lent

A few days ago, a pastor buddy surprised me with his confession . . . “I flunked Lent!” Here’s the situation: the two of us had just talked about his Netflix addiction. While it wasn’t one of the common addictions of our time such as alcohol or porn, he did “binge watch” stuff late at night to escape from the unrelenting stress of his ministry. He had planned to quit doing that, but right after he completed binging on another entire season of a popular comedy, The Office, he then started binging on the dark series called Breaking Bad.

I’ve recently been challenged by a new book, The Tech-Wise Family. Andy Crouch writes both candidly and insightfully, suggesting Ten Tech-Wise Commitments that his family seeks to practice. Here are the two I found most convicting:

  • We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So, one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play and rest together.
  • We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do.

Our culture is in crisis, and it’s evident in our own homes. Social media has a grip on most all of us. It’s insidious. It’s now come to light that early Facebook executives created “short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops” designed to lure people in and hook them. Just as every savvy drug dealer knows . . . once you’ve started it’s hard to stop.

I’m shocked how I fall into this pattern myself. I rarely spend much time on Facebook, but when I do I usually linger longer than I ever intended. It’s not only a time killer; as many young people have discovered, it doesn’t do wonders for your self-esteem either. Someone is always posting pics of an exotic vacation or a personal celebration and sometimes we feel left out of the party!

No one wants to be left out of the party! Every time my phone dings I wonder what urgent need or opportunity might be awaiting! Don’t tell me I’m the only one. In her masterful book, The Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren tells of a disturbing study proving how common my addiction happens to be. She writes, “Given the choice, many preferred undergoing electric shock to sitting alone with their thoughts…. When left alone in an empty room with a “shocker” button for up to fifteen minutes, removed from all distractions, unable to check their phones or listen to music, two-thirds of men and one-fourth of women in the study chose to voluntarily shock themselves rather than sit in silence.”

I love silence, but not for too long. The other day I told Linda that I wasn’t going to check any media or messages from dinner at night until after morning devotions. I lasted only one day! The very next night I was waiting on some important emails so I asked Linda’s permission to check. The following night I didn’t even bother to ask, probably because I wanted to check on the Denver Broncos latest recruits—and I knew she wouldn’t exactly see that as an urgent and important need!

We can all laugh about our own occasional media obsessions. But sadly, the unrelenting distractions are re-wiring our brains. Microsoft reported that in the year 2000 the average attention span was 12 seconds. By the year 2012 it was down to 8 seconds. Today we’re all in the company of gold fish! We dart from one thing to the next, seldom taking time to sit, ponder, pray and confess our need for God to fill the emptiness that only He can fill.

In these remaining few days of Lent, how might God be challenging you to quiet your soul and confess your sinful obsessions?

Grace and Peace,
Alan Ahlgrim
Director of Soul Care Covenant Groups
The Center for Church Leadership