Some are big names, voices which I'll miss during their forty-days' self-imposed silence. Others are smaller or less well-known, friendly mommy bloggers who make the announcement of their decision to drop out with confidence, hesitation, or anything in between. Still others make some small changes to their blogging habits, blogging only certain days a week or on certain topics, restricting comments or temporarily disabling their stat-tracking so they can't worry about the number of visits or comments they get, or otherwise tackling aspects of blogging they think are becoming too great a temptation to some kind of sinful habits, like gossip or the desire for attention.
All of that is fine, so far as it goes. I can't imagine ever telling anyone that his or her personal sacrifice wasn't a good idea (unless that person is one of my daughters with the annual question, "Can I give up math for Lent? It would help me control my temper..." to which the answer is always some variation on the phrase "Nice try."). But adults, presumably, know their own temptations and struggles best, and if reading blogs, writing blogs, reading or participating in comment boxes, etc. have become either a temptation or perhaps an unwise use of one's time, that's for the person making the sacrificial decision to decide.
What concerns me about the "I'm giving up blogging for Lent" announcement is the copycat behavior it sometimes inspires.
In my earlier Lenten post I wrote about the struggle that would go on at my college when some girls would give up makeup for Lent. Pretty soon, some of the simplest, kindest souls would be agonizing over the question: shouldn't I give up makeup, too? Isn't it just vanity to wear makeup? If I don't give it up, doesn't that just prove that I'm too vain, too worldly, too focused on appearance? Doesn't it just prove that I'm not holy?
My forty-year-old self can say to these young girls that as we get older sometimes the wearing of a little makeup (at least in public) is an act of charity--but I digress. In all seriousness, though, one person's temptation is another person's indifference; the sort of girl who thought makeup was a bother but at least covered up a vexing blotchy complexion problem probably isn't motivated by overweening vanity to wear it in the first place, and shouldn't be troubled if her own conscience leads her to give up afternoon coffee, instead.
And just as the motivations for giving up makeup vs. continuing to wear it vary, so do the motivations for giving up blogging vs. continuing to blog vary. What can be troubling, though, to some souls is the way the "I'm giving up blogging" announcement is sometimes made.
Suppose a fictional blogger says the following: "I'm giving up blogging/reading blogs/commenting for Lent. I've become too focused on blogging and not focused enough on God. I'm prideful about checking my stats. I want the attention of lots of comments, and get disappointed when I don't get many. I waste too much time blogging instead of living my vocation as a wife and mother. I get hurt too easily by negative feedback and think I need to spend more time nurturing the real relationships in my life instead of the virtual ones."
That might be very honest for our fictional blogger--but sometimes others who read this kind of statement become as bewildered as the girls in my college used to be when a popular girl would announce her decision to give up makeup in order to be less vain, less tempted to shallowness, and less focused on appearance. This is because some people read this, not as a personal list of what blogging is in their life (which it is, and which I'm sure it's absolutely meant to be) and instead as a definitive list of the factual deleterious effects blogging may have on the Christian soul.
In other words, the confused Catholic blogger may read these kinds of posts from people he/she admires, and start to think that the following things are universally true:
- blogging distracts us from God
- blogging fosters pride
- blogging feeds a disordered desire for attention
- blogging gets in the way of our attentive living of our proper vocations
- blogging creates situations for hurt feelings
- blogging is too removed from the "real" world to have any value
Spending too much time reading novels can distract us from God. Surrounding ourselves with people who admire us can foster pride. Being the first person to sign up for every parish ministry opportunity can feed a disordered desire for attention. Spending hours on the phone each day can get in the way of our attentive living of our proper vocations. Any kind of human contact can create situations which involve hurt feelings. And almost any sort of hobby can have the sense of being removed from the real world (e.g., what good is stamp collecting, etc.?) but that doesn't make them worthless.
Those people who decide to give up blogging for Lent are doing so because they see some spiritual value in doing so--but that doesn't mean that giving up blogging for Lent has some kind of across the board, special value for everyone. For myself, the situation is a bit different, at least right now; I find myself on the brink of answering a call from God to use the writing talents it has pleased Him to give me in a way I've never been able to do before, but before I reach the point where I'll really be able to consider myself anything more than a clumsy novice in this particular art, I've got to get more practice in. And that means writing, not just for myself, not just in a private journal locked away from the world, but out in plain sight, where my deficiencies can be noticed and corrected and my strengths sharpened and tuned, so to speak. It means writing on a daily basis, on whatever topics are at hand. It means writing whether I feel like it or not, whether I'm satisfied before I hit that "publish" button or not.
The limits I've set on myself so far have only involved weekends, when blogging is more difficult for me. So during Lent I'm going to try to write at least one post over the course of the weekend, too, even if it's very short and not even remotely news-driven. My keeping my weekends "writing-free" isn't something that a "real" writer gets to do, after all; most of them have deadlines and contracts and other forces pushing them to do at least some writing on Saturday or Sunday as well as during the week.
Now, I'm not suggesting that others ought to take up more blogging during Lent, because I know that what is a sacrifice for some isn't for others, and that only we ourselves can ponder what God wants of us, and listen to His voice as we try to discern His will. Whether we decide to blog more, blog less, quit blogging for Lent entirely, or some other action is up to us. So long as we're focused on our own spiritual challenges, and avoid the temptation to think that we should do what everybody else is doing, we'll make the right decisions about our Lenten sacrifices.
Update: Thanks to Patrick Archbold, I realized that I forgot to link to the earlier post which explains the reference to girls giving up makeup for Lent; I've added that now. Gentlemen readers may still want to skip over that part, as you have no idea how insanely competitive Catholic college girls can get over their Lenten sacrifices (all with the goal of winning the Most Holiest M.R.S.-degree Candidate Ever award, which presumably comes with a cute Catholic marriage-minded guy so swept off his feet by all the holiness that he can't wait until second-semseter senior year to pop the question.)