During Lent – the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter – United Methodists and Christians everywhere often sacrifice something meaningful to them: candy, soda, alcohol, even red meat. It is a way to prepare spiritually for Easter and to move closer to God.
One unique “sacrifice” that debuted last year and is gaining a lot of momentum again in 2012 is the idea of giving up Facebook for Lent – there is even a Facebook page titled Giving up Facebook for Lent. It is a way to say, “Farewell for now, see you in 40 days.”
The reason for their sacrifice is simple. “I spend way too much time on it,” read one post before Lent began. “It’s like I’m on autopilot when I check Facebook dozens of times a day. I’m going to use this time to connect with friends and family in a more personal way.”
Facebook’s knocking on a billion users spend more than 700 billion minutes a month on the site. A Lenten hiatus would give the average user more than 30 hours or 45 minutes a day back.
“It’s an interesting idea,” said the Rev. Kevin Shelton of Community United Methodist Church in Columbia, Mo. “Certainly if a person feels that Facebook is consuming them and their time, they should take a closer look at that. Some may want to ask themselves, 'How much do I rely on it instead of relying on Christ?'”
Joe Farmer of Wisconsin had another idea. Why not use Facebook to enhance the Lenten season? Joe was in church one Sunday when the pastor began teaching from 1 Corinthians 13:4: “Love is patient; love is kind.”
“Suddenly it occurred to me that maybe 40 days of kindness would be a great thing to teach my kids,” said Farmer. He and his wife, Wanda, decided they would perform a random act of kindness every day of Lent. They started the Facebook group 40 Days of Kindness.
Within hours, the site grew to more than 200 — people from every continent on the globe sharing random acts of kindness.
“I just wrote a letter of encouragement to someone in prison,” reported Terry.
“We sent a package of school supplies through a friend to a village school in the North Hill Lands of Thailand,” posted Laura.
Shelton likes the idea of a kindness Facebook group.
“I believe that Lent is not limited to giving up; it is a time for taking on as well,” the pastor said.
And people are taking on kindness across the United States. In Wisconsin, a family struggling with unemployment lost its home to foreclosure. A local church offered the family its pastor’s residence rent-free until they could get back on their feet.
“The beauty of 40 Days of Kindness is that it doesn’t have to be something as grandiose as giving someone a house,” said Farmer. “A woman opened the door for me the other day at the hardware store. Sometimes, that’s all it is. The hustle and distraction of every day was put aside to connect with another person.”
It also does not have to stop when Easter arrives, Farmer noted. “It is my hope that it will become a lifestyle rather than a campaign.”