Like many parents of young children, it’s rare for me to get a good night’s sleep. Our first child came to us through adoption, and since he was nearly a year old, I naively thought he would sleep through the night. Instead, I faced the brutal reality of every new mom who rises multiple times a night to feed and comfort her baby. Since those early days over a decade ago, I have birthed four babies and have had to make my peace with interrupted sleep.
In fact, it’s possible I’ve made a little too much peace with it: I routinely stay up late to watch Netflix, scroll social media, or otherwise enjoy a quiet house with my husband. Then I doze off close to midnight praying that no one will wake up and climb into my bed during the night, knowing full well they almost always do. Needless to say, my family does not get the best of me when I wake up in the morning: grumpiness, complaining, and nagging abound.
As soon as Lent started creeping closer, I began to have a troublesome feeling that I was being called to fast from screens in the evening.
I knew that plopping down in front of Netflix was sucking up any free time I had to read books, practice a craft, journal, or sit alone with my thoughts and prayers; not to mention how late it was keeping me up. But it had come to be such a source of comfort—a way to numb the stress and chaos of life—that I felt a lot of inner resistance at the idea of letting it go. To be honest, I was still on the fence about it when Ash Wednesday came around.
Finally, on the third day of Lent, I realized that my mindset was the real reason that fasting from screens felt like something to dread rather than something that would set me free. When I framed it as fasting from T.V., I felt deprived. But when I reframed it as fasting from sleep deprivation, which for me meant no screen time, I noticed I wanted to act in the interest of my spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical health. The idea even began to sound nice.
I think this is where we often go wrong at Lent. Instead of considering which changes might make us better able to receive God’s love ourselves and then turn around and love our neighbor (be that a refugee, a coworker, or a child), we tend to see it only as the removal of things that are fun or delicious. The concept of fasting can be a grim one; but I don’t think it has to be. How can we rewrite the narrative to see God’s invitation to mental health and spiritual vitality instead?
As crazy as it sounds, I’m excited about what I’ve chosen to “give up” for Lent. Because deep down I know that by allowing myself more sleep, I am making room for the Holy Spirit to make me more healthy, more soulful, and more ready to love those around me. And if my children magically start sleeping through the night, well that will be icing on the cake.