Is This the Most Productive Use of My Time?

That’s what my friend used to hang on the wall above her computer in her dorm room last year.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, a period in which Catholics and other liturgical Christians observe 40 days of penitence, fasting, increased prayer and almsgiving. Traditionally, as part of the fasting aspect, Christians will “give up” something for Lent. In the past, I have given up chocolate, sodas, and Pop-Tarts, but last year, I took a bigger plunge and abstained from Facebook. This year, I’m doing it again.

It’s important to remember that the things we give up are not always bad in and of themselves, although some people do use the time to attempt to break a vice such as smoking, swearing, or eating unhealthily. More often, though, they are perfectly acceptable good things, but the theological implications of detaching ourselves from temporal, earthly goods is to refocus our attention on our dependence on God, who is our source and end and our ultimate Good.

But there are practical implications, as well. While Facebook is an excellent way to keep in touch with distant friends and relatives as well as promote your brand or network with other writers, for me, personally, it has become something of a vice. Networking is good, but actual writing is even better, and honestly, I was spending far too much time on Facebook (not even networking, at that!) to the point where it detracted from my writing.

A writer for Al Jazeera actually recently wrote an article about how Facebook is purportedly changing the way we interact and even the way our brains function. And a Slate article from last January claims that Facebook is specifically designed to showcase only the positive aspects of our lives, which can cause us to overestimate others’ happiness and increase our own feelings of inadequacy. And I’m well aware that it’s a very small sample, but speaking from my personal experience, three of my five roommates do not use Facebook at all, and they seem less anxious or unhappy overall.

So this Ash Wednesday, I’m logging out of Facebook until Easter, and I’m actually eagerly looking forward to the positive benefits I believe it will bring me. In the time I would be wasting on Facebook, I’ll be writing more blog posts and working on my novel. While I’ll certainly be making an effort to spend more time in meditative prayer, for me, writing is also a form of prayer— a talent and passion I have received from God, and one which I gladly offer back to him as a way to brighten my corner of the world and share his love with others.

If you made a New Year’s resolution– whether to write more, eat more healthily, become a more generous or kinder person– but it has fizzled out, even if you’re not Christian, I’d like to invite you to join thousands of other people in casting off something that might be holding you back from self-improvement and renewing a resolution to better yourself.

Have you ever thought of ditching Facebook, even for a short period? What are you giving up for Lent this year? Or, more importantly, what are you replacing it with that’s even better? If you are of a different faith tradition, how do you integrate your writing with your spiritual life? And if you don’t belong to any particular faith, how does writing help you to become a better person?

P.S. I haven’t given up on Twitter since I don’t spend much time on it as it is, but you might see my Facebook page update since it is tied to both Twitter and WordPress.

31 thoughts on “Is This the Most Productive Use of My Time?”

  1. Nice post on lent. I am and have given up music (and radio). Between the amount of time I sit in front of a computer and the time I spend driving, I fill a lot of my day listening to music. While it is impossible to completely remove myself from hearing music, I basically never initiate playing music on my own. By simply removing it, it really allows me to put my focus back on God and provide ample time for prayer and meditation.

  2. I have thought of giving up Facebook many times. I did for a few months but came back when I realized that people don’t know how, or are too lazy to contact me by email. Thus, I never new about anything. It really does make me a bit bitter in all honesty. Anyway, sorry to rant. 🙂 I wish you the best on your lent! I think it’s great to take more time to focus on your faith!

  3. I’ve actually seen people write quite a few negative comments on Facebook. Thinking about it, I’ve even written a few myself.

    But, I think when you first rediscover an old school friend, they have a tendency to list out all their achievements and side step difficult times.

    I am one of those Facebookers who really uses it to keep in touch. So I can’t imagine not using Facebook for Lent. But I wish you every success.

  4. I “ditched” FB a couple years ago and have hardly regretted it. However, I find time is just as easily filled (wasted?) in the blogger world. Oh dear! 😛
    I like the idea of hanging that question (post title) above my computer… Is what I’m doing on here glorifying God or feeding self? Challenging thoughts. Thanks.

  5. So, “abstained from Facebook” you said?

    That triggered a thought of how to productively use the time instead… C.S. Lewis wrote a novel called Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold. You should read it if you haven’t yet. It is not like Narnia or his Space trilogy. The retold myth is/was the story of Cupid and Psyche. Or read it again if you haven’t read it in the past few years. The meaning one derives from it changes as you mature. It is odd like that.

    BTW, I am just posting here because the Peanut Gallery seemed crowded. I don’t want to inflame the fire marshal by exceeding the occupancy rate.

    1. Haha! Actually, you are the third person to recommend that book to me, so I am definitely going to check it out now.

      And it’s quite all right to move on over to where there’s a bit more breathing space. Comments are comments, but you have to be strategic about your visibility sometimes, too.

  6. I’m giving up procrastination, or trying. So, that doesn’t mean I can’t have any internet time, as some of what I do (blogging etc) is useful. However, as soon as I realise I’m doing something I don’t need to be doing, I have to get off it. I think it will help although weekdays are so busy I don’t get all that much time to test it! The weekend will be the real test, of course.

    Just reading your bio, and noticing that you like Tolkien, CS Lewis and Stephen Lawhead. Yay for common interests! I’m a massive fan of all three 🙂

  7. Though I’ve long since left the Catholic faith, I have participated in Lent in the past and would like to congratulate you on having the guts and drive to abstain from something that is an actual personal vice. I spent so many years watching my aunt give up tea (which she rarely drinks anyway), and my Catholic coworkers give up NOTHING, that I honestly wondered if anyone understood the purpose of the ‘holiday’.

    That said, I think I could also do with an extended break from things like FaceBook, even though I no longer celebrate Lent. I’ve found over the years that I have a very addictive personality, not when it comes to things such as drugs and alcohol, but when it comes to things like games and social networking. Many a night I’ve gotten no writing done at all because I spent the evening flipping back and forth between FaceBook and The Sims 3 on my iPhone. In the past I got so addicted to an online game called GaiaOnline that I had to quit cold turkey and never return because it was threatening my day job.

    In this day of so many options for what to do with your spare time, I think we tend to choose the wastes of time more often than not, and for writers that can be poison. Some of my projects would probably have been completed a long time ago if I had the willpower to turn the internet off and just WRITE. So maybe I’ll try just that….starting tomorrow after I finish reading through some blogs. ^_~

  8. I think the idea of giving something up for 40 days reveals that we need to strike a better balance in our lives. Too many people misplace Lent for repentance, and it is temporary at that. I would caution those who use Lent to “diet” from something. We all know what happens to most people at the end of dieting…
    I would encourage those that want to unplug from FB, unplug altogether next year. Set your blog entries up ahead of time, beat procrastination, and write your stories on paper.


  9. I just took the opportunity yesterday to talk with my Myth and Culture class (college sophomores) about the origins of Lent, its similarity to Ramadan, (and to yell at them for holding a Mardi Gras bake sale on Thursday, Duh!). We got to talking about the movements of religion through time. Some interesting points arose: Most people tend to think of Islam as a much older religion than it is; and the older a religion is (or is thought to be) the more likely we are to associate its rituals with a mindless or disconnected behavior. You get ashes on your head and you go to work. But what does it mean? What sacredness, what sacred time or place, does it carve into your mundane life? We talked about how the bar mitzvah boy becomes a man but then the next morning his mom has to drive him to junior high. The mindfulness of Buddhist practice encourages a constant sense of the sacred; an hour of church somehow seems to permit us to finish, to meet an obligation and then move on. And when, in an effort to make the religious investment easier and therefore more appealing to the modern world, we substitute increasingly abbreviated symbols. It’s not that God will punish us for not wearing a scrap of lace on our heads, my mother used to explain. It’s that we want to carry a reminder that when it comes to the spiritual, pride in our appearance has no place. And ultimately I learned to internalize that. I don’t cover my head for church anymore but
    i think that I am constantly mindful that my appearance is pretty low on the scale of importance. I won’t buy the privilege of being vain by modeling humility once a week, and I won’t buy the appearance of self-sacrifice for 40 days and then binge on Sunday. Maybe as religious practice matures within a culture we can move from the rituals but not lose the message.

    1. Very thought-provoking reply! I really agree with you about the reminder bit. To me as a Catholic, so much of my religion is actually about reminding us of invisible truths (via things like the sacraments, sacramentals such as candles or incense, and liturgical seasons such as Lent and Easter), though they are often misunderstood as arbitrary or outmoded dictates that we do just because it’s tradition.

      As you have pointed out, it’s not about whether or not the ashes do anything as much as it is the question: How will this ritual– this reminding– effect change in my life and move me to become a better person?

  10. I’ve considered dropping FB altogether many times, but there are a few people I only keep up with through FB. Your idea is a good one. I don’t do lent, but I could certainly take a month off. Maybe March. Nice post!

  11. i have thought of ditching Facebook, i mean it really does make me twitch, however i see people around my work who are literally addicted to Facebook. it is so unhealthy because if anything changes they are there to comment, like or view it!
    i heard a friend talk about Facebook and they mentioned the fact that nothing is factual or set in stone unless it is on Facebook. how can this be the case.
    lovely post 🙂 i look forward to many many more 🙂

  12. Like many of you, I do use Facebook for practical reasons, such as keeping in touch with people I need to contact or sharing intellectually stimulating articles from around the internet, but while I was not necessarily playing games or stalking photos all the time, I did realise that I almost subconsciously will type into my URL bar, and far too often throughout the day. Most of the time, I would visit the site when I was actually feeling an urge to write, but it is easier to review the newsfeed for the fifth time that day, though nothing noteworthy is to be found there, most of the time.

  13. For Lent, I’ve given up cable, a toxic friend, and my one true fast food love–Chick-fil-a. I plan to only reintroduce Chick-fil-a back into my life after Easter. I am ashamed at the amount of time I spend on Facebook, but babysteps!

  14. I was thinking a lot about the giving up things at our Ash Wednesday service this year. While I’ve gone to church all my life, none of the churches I grew up in really paid much attention to Lent and it’s not until the past 3 years that the church I go to now started an Ash Wednesday service. It’s something of an adjustment for me, but in a good way.
    However, for me personally as I thought about it this year, I felt like maybe giving something up wasn’t the way for me to go. Instead I decided to add something. Actually, I decided to add several things.
    First I started on a site called 750 Words. Which is pretty much what it sounds like; every day I just write at least 750 words. It’s not for anyone to read, it’s just to think aloud or pray or just sort-of type for a while. Sometimes I find that I’m thinking about or upset about something I didn’t even realize.
    Second my friend Joe gave me sort-of an end of the day meditation that I’m trying to use. It’s just some basic questions but it’s a way to look over your day and just practice being thankful and taking note of what you did and didn’t do. 10 or 15 minutes a day, typically.
    I don’t know if these were the best uses of my time or not but I think they’re things worth trying. Kudos to you for giving up Facebook! Social media can be pretty engrossing. I hope your season of Lent is a blessed one.


  15. Good luck on that. FB isn’t a huge addiction for me, I think I could give it up fairly easily. Photographing, on the other hand, I would wrestle with.

    Luckily for me, I’m not a practicing Catholic anymore.

  16. I totally got rid of Facebook, foreva. For Lent, giving up the usual for Orthodox – meat, eggs, dairy, wine, olive oil. Hmmm….I think I should add random googling to that list.

  17. I gave up Facebook a while back by completely deleting my old account. Didn’t go near it for about six months. I went back to it a few weeks ago with a new account, but only adding people I want to hear from and occasionally talk to (plus family, but most of those I don’t subscribe to their feeds.) It really makes it less stressful if you aren’t trying to reconnect with people from the past and having to worry about making yourself look good.

  18. Your writing is very thoughtful, totally enjoying it! This year, I am giving up on giving up. I know, I know….that’s totally cheating and akin to getting three wishes from a genie, and then using one of the wishes for three more wishes. But, alas, it’s true. I usually give something up…and I use Facebook to promote my upcoming charity work…and don’t spend much time otherwise…

    But thank you for your words, and sharing your heart. 🙂

  19. Excellent post Ed. I don’t observe Lent but I have a friend who is teaming up with me on a diet and she is using Lent as her guilt motivator. I’m told that guilt is a big thing with Catholics. It is interesting about how Facebook stresses the positive sides of our lives and therefore makes us overestimate every one else’s bliss while feeling inadequate ourselves. I’ve seen that with myself. Of course I have friends on the flip side of it that like to use Facebook as their own personal complaint board so that people can pat their little virtual heads and go “Oh you poor dear, bless your heart.” or some other platitude. Nevertheless Facebook has definitely changed our culture forever.

  20. Not giving up anything for Lent. I did it one year and gave up soda. But I don’t see much point to it, kind of like New Year Resolutions. I did deactivate Facebook last year when I was writing my thesis because it offered too many distractions and I’m glad I did it. I’ve thought about deactivating it again recently because I feel less and less people use it. But for now I’m keeping it!

    1. When I have a big writing project I commit myself to deadlines on my social networks, and my friends hold me accountable — did you write today? Any tool, even FB, can be made to work with your priorities, or against them. More cheers for mindfulness.

    1. Giving something up for Lent is not the “ultimate sacrifice”; laying down one’s life for another is.

      The purpose of Lent is to remind us to turn back to God and realise our dependence on him for everything. We increase our prayer and acts of charity, which could benefit other people as well as our own spiritual lives.

      As for abstaining from certain things, the purpose is to again remind oneself of one’s dependence on God, who is the ultimate good, although Catholics do believe that suffering of any kind can be meritorious and benefit others when that suffering is lovingly offered to God in union with the suffering of Jesus during his passion. That is to say, we believe that God can take what seems to be evil and use it for good if we cooperate and trust in him.

      So even though abstaining from something during Lent might be a small “suffering” on my part, I can cheerfully offer that small discomfort to God for the benefit of others.

      1. God is ALMIGHTY, he does not need a thing from us. Other human beings do, though
        That is what Jesus ultimate sacrifice was for: to teach us the true meaning of Love.
        God doesn’t need our love. HE IS LOVE.
        God wants us to do things for other humans, our brothers and sisters.

  21. From time to time I give up the internet and my computer and just have time – usually a week, sometimes longer – when I don’t use either at all. It’s refreshing and needed. I think the major problem of the internet is that one is fed info from outside oneself rather like having it pushed through a feed-tube. There is little input from oneself and in ones consciousness, the outside world shrinks. Yes, one can turn it off (the ‘net), but there’s the addiction element of it – one doesn’t. So I get away from it from to time.

    Currently though, I need to give up just sitting and exercise more! 🙂

  22. This was an interesting post. I had no idea you were freshly pressed, just clicked on you curiously because of your comment on FindingMyWorth.

    I find most comments naturally cause me to respond, but some are just a word or two like “great blog” and I don’t feel to respond to that, because it didn’t actually say anything about the content, or why they think it’s great. In other words, I think commenting comes naturally!

    But what I found interesting here, was the questions on people’s minds – so yes, an interesting read 🙂

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