40 Days in the Modern Wilderness

Originally posted 2016-02-14 08:00:24.

“What are you giving up for Lent?” How many times have I heard this in my Christian life- probably every year since I was five (give or take college years).  As a kid, I wanted to say “I’m giving up homework!” “I’m giving up candy!” or “I’m giving up my N64.” Honestly, I probably should have given up reading, that would have been a real punishment…these declarations of what I was to sacrifice usually lasted a week or so, sometimes more, but as soon as Easter came, the N64 came out, the candy was consumed, and life continued as normal.

This year, now an adult, I started to question where the origin of Lenten sacrifice came from. According to Catholicism (although I’m actually Protestant):

“The 40 days of Lent, which precedes Easter is based on two Biblical accounts: the 40 years of wilderness wandering by the Israelites and our Lord’s 40 days in the wilderness at which point He was tempted by Satan.

Each year the Church observes Lent where we, like Israel and our Lord, are tested. We participate in abstinence, times of fasting, confession and acts of mercy to strengthen our faith and devotional disciplines. The goal of every Christian is to leave Lent a stronger and more vital person of faith than when we entered.”

As someone who spends an inordinate amount of  time in nature, spending forty days outside sounds fantastic, if it wasn’t in snow-covered woods and wasn’t five below zero. That’s not really what the biblical Wilderness is. Wilderness doesn’t necessarily have to be a specific place, it can be a state of mind. Wilderness is used in the bible to induce change in a person or people. It is a time of chaos, temptation, and tests of faith. Successful trips to the Wilderness should result in a greater self-awareness and a deeper relationship with God. It signifies a moment in time where there was struggle, where the traveler gets stuck in a rut and must get out. It’s different than the Pit. (I can write about the biblical pit later) in that it’s a time of self-reflection and can be self-imposed. Though you can be called to the Wilderness, or stumble into the Wilderness, you could also seek out solitude and find it yourself.

In the bible stories, people walked into the Wilderness physically. Unfortunately, in our day to day busy lives, that journey can be nigh impossible. There are wilderness retreats and trips you can take, but for most of us, that just isn’t feasible. So we give something up for lent.

On my quest for knowledge, I came across multiple sites about ‘what to give up for lent?” and even a flowchart to help you in case you don’t know where to start. But really, that takes away from the spiritual growth aspect of the Wilderness. It shouldn’t be easy, and although you may argue giving up Chocolate before Valentine’s Day is difficult, it’s difficult to determine how that will bring you closer to yourself, your family, and God. This should not be something ‘easy.’ My husband even joked with me as I started this post wondering if Diablo III takes a hit on players because they all gave up their game addictions for the season. Another popular one that I myself am trying out is giving up social media, in particular, Facebook.

The problem with this, of course, is that I use Facebook for work as well as play. It is the main way I communicate with friends, fellow authors on this blog, and some extra projects as well. Giving it up, I realized, would impact my life and my involvement in these communities. At first, I was going to back out because it impacted my life too much….

and then I realized that was the point. The point of it all is to withstand temptation, create good habits, break away from vices. This doesn’t mean taking time away from things that you enjoy- I’m not giving up working out, painting, reading, playing my violin, or (obviously) writing… but those activities enhance my spirit, keep me focused, and lower my stress.

Facebook, however, has turned into a vice. With a smart phone connected to the internet 100% of the time, I have gotten into the habit of checking Facebook throughout the day while at work and at red lights on the way home. It is a constant tab that’s always open on my laptop while I write or draw.  When compared to my husband, who only goes on maybe once a month, I am a total addict. Even as I type this, I’m tempted to open the browser and type it in- just to see if there’s anyone to talk to.

It’s going to be difficult, it’s going to be a struggle, but if I can distance myself and impose the Wilderness of being disconnected from my social network, maybe I’ll get back to what’s important and refocus on the relationships that matter the most to me. Giving up something for Lent is the Christian calendar saying: “Here- this is your opportunity for self-growth and reflection! It’s entirely self-motivated and your success or failure is entirely between you and God!” and for this year- I’m taking the opportunity seriously. Even if you’re not Christian, you may want to consider doing the same. The results may surprise you and I’ll check back in around Easter and let you know how it went as I come out the other side.

Hello everyone! I'm a 30-year old Middle School science teacher, which gets all kinds of reactions. When I'm not teaching, I'm either writing, playing video games, practicing violin, drawing, or reading. I've spent many hours hiking in the woods and have been known to stargaze. I live in Maryland with my awesome, supportive, and loving husband and although we don't have kids yet, my 100+ students keep me busy.