Once upon a time, people gave up food for Lent – usually something they needed to cut back on, like sweets.
These days, people are vowing to give up Facebook.
It makes sense, says Lisa Hendey, webmaster at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, the largest Roman Catholic congregation in Fresno, Calif.
“In the past, it might have been giving up the extras, like chocolate or TV, but Facebook has become such a big part of people’s daily lives they’re contemplating giving it up, praying about it and discussing it,” Hendey says.
Hendey – who also has her own website, lisahendey.com, that appeals to Catholic moms and provides links to her Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter pages – says she’s thought about giving up social media but isn’t ready to take the plunge.
“It’s a large part of the way I do my work,” she says. “I likely will not give it up, but I will cut back on my use of it, especially Sundays, during the season of Lent.”
Lent is the period of 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter, observed by some Christian churches with fasting, penitence, prayer and self-denial.
The aim is for parishioners to make sacrifices as they spiritually prepare for Easter, moving closer to God.
Deciding what to give up for Lent isn’t an easy choice. Pastors suggest people should consider what’s valuable to them, and that includes their time.
Dan Hues, associate pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church in northwest Fresno, says many people are questioning the amount of time they spend on Facebook.
“Facebook is huge,” he says. “It’s blown up to be almost ubiquitous. It’s almost compulsive; that’s why it makes sense to give it up for Lent.
“The whole point of Lent is a time of getting closer to God. The point is to leave selfish behavior behind you, to put off the ‘self.’ Facebook is almost a shrine to yourself, with pictures, status updates, seeing if people ‘like’ you. It’s all about you.”
Facebook has more than 500 million active users, with about 50 percent logging in any given day. People spend more than 700 billion minutes per month on the site.
Robin Goldbeck, a self-employed Fresno residential architect and member of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, is giving up Facebook for Lent.
She uses the Internet all the time at her office, researching manufacturers’ websites for specifications related to her work. She decided to go on Facebook when she wanted to relax in the evenings.
It started out to be a “purely social” thing. Goldbeck enjoyed reading friends’ posts about themselves and their children.
“It’s like Christmas cards all day long,” she says.
But after a while, evenings weren’t enough.
“The first thing in the morning, I wanted to see what happened overnight,” she says.
Then, she checked during the middle of work projects: “I’d say, ‘I’ll just check Facebook right now.’ ”
Goldbeck says she knew she was overdoing it.
“I’m ready for a break,” she says. “I want to take stock of what Facebook is or isn’t contributing overall.”
Roy Guzman, director of English Youth Ministry at St. John’s Cathedral in downtown Fresno, says it is important that parishioners pick something they can give up that’s keeping them from getting closer to God.
Whatever it is, Guzman advises them to find time “to help another human being in God’s name.”
The Rev. Ted Niemi, pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, promotes face-to-face contact with people.
“If someone is going to give up Facebook, maybe they need to look at nurturing relationships with family – and stop being superficial,” he says.
“It’s finding some way to take the essence of Easter – God showing love for all of creation – and showing it as followers of God.”
Ramiro Luevano Jr., a student at Fresno City College and member of St. John’s Cathedral, understands that sentiment. He was spending too much time on Facebook, so he gave it up for Lent last year.
He says he learned a lot from the experience.
“You have so much more time,” Luevano says. “I went out for runs; I exercised more. I spent more time with my family.
“I had more time to reflect on life. Instead of writing my friends on Facebook, I went to be with them.
“If you think about it, you don’t need it. Ten years ago, nobody knew about Facebook.”