My family is taking a break from screens during Lent. All of us, to one extent or another. Obviously, we can’t totally unplug. My kids do their homework on chrome books. Patty’s work life revolves around social media. Most of my office work is on my MacBook. Screens are a necessary part of life these days.
But what we’ve cut out is the mindless entertainment portion. Scrolling, flipping, binge watching, gaming, YouTube. You’d think we’d given up nicotine or caffeine. My kids are in agony. Every day is a protest, often ending in tears, or stomping, or pouting. It has been rough. Who knew just how dependent we had become on our phones!
Initially the boredom was overwhelming. “What am I supposed to do now?!” “I don’t know, read a book?” “But nothing I read is interesting! I need something that will just grab my attention.”
Exactly! Screens are effortless. We don’t have to engage…they do all the work. What good is free time if you must be creative, if you must practice, if you must get through the first 30 pages before the story draws you in?
Instead we prefer to scroll through copious amounts of digital content that we aren’t interested in looking for that one thing…that thing that…wait, what are we looking for?
And so we go from one YouTube to another, chuckling at random falls or cute cats, until our eyes are red and everything around us feels irritating. At least that is how it goes in our home. When free time is spent looking at your phone, real life becomes an annoying intrusion.
It is an interesting dilemma. In his Pensees, Blaise Pascal talks about the weariness we all face and how diversion has become our primary coping mechanism. He writes,
“Nothing is so insufferable to man as to be completely at rest, without passions, without business, without diversion, without study. He then feels his nothingness, his forlornness, his insufficiency, his dependence, his weakness, his emptiness. There will immediately arise from the depth of his heart weariness, gloom, sadness, fretfulness, vexation, despair.”
Yep. All those.
Without diversion, the pain in our lives becomes evident. The emotions we’ve been avoiding become inescapable. We see our loneliness, our disconnection, our insecurity, our inferiority, our worry.
These are our weeds. St. Theresa of Avila tells us that we must sit in them…with God. But this is easier said than done.
When the screens are gone the silence can feel suffocating. Our minds race. We fidget. We can even panic. We pick up our phone and start scrolling. Until we get caught… “Hey! No screens!”
But my family is slowly starting to detox.
In the space we’ve created, I now see my kids reaching for their guitars, pulling out the markers or colored pencils, grabbing a board game, sitting down at the piano, picking up a book. And what they don’t realize is how happy they sound. They aren’t bickering or complaining. They are laughing, giggling, teasing each other. Connecting.
We are giving the best parts of ourselves to each other, instead of to the screens. And life is richer and deeper. Our eyes are clearer. And we start to notice more.
This is one of the hidden gifts of Lent. Sometimes all we can think of is what we’ve given up. But what we often overlook is the gift or the invitation that awaits us in the empty space. By turning off our screens we aren’t creating a vacuum. No, we’re allowing ourselves to slow down to the pace that real relationships require. Our minds calm, our hearts rest, and our joy returns. There is space for each other, and for that still small voice of God.