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Ash Wednesday

If you haven't noticed, we live in a world of social media. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Mastodon, and I don't know what else is out there happily taking in the lives we give them. It is very much a “look at me” culture.

In this social media world, I'm sure we're all familiar with the phenomena of people constantly posting selfies of either themselves or of them and their partners. Now there's nothing wrong with doing this. Joelene and I have done it and I can point out several people here who have also done it. But I ran across something the other day that basically said, “Couples who post lots of pictures on social media tend to be less happy than couples who don't.”

This, of course, is a generalization and doesn't account for all couples, but the point it was making was that social media couples are trying to look happy while actual happy couples are too busy living their lives to continually post pictures.

What does posting pictures of your and your partner/spouse, or not posting, have to do with Lent? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything.

In Lent we are called to a season of self-examination and repentance, prayer, fasting, and self-denial. Lent is a highly introspective and highly personal season. It's a season where we look to place God where God belongs in our lives – first. It's a time we replace overeating with fasting to remind us of those who don't have enough. It's a time we replace collecting and gathering with reviewing and dispersing to help those in need. It's a time we replace social media or computer games with reading and meditating on God's holy word. It's a time we replace self-centered desires with God-centered activities.

Lent is a time we focus on our relationship with God. It is a time to return to the Lord, rending our hearts and not our clothing, as Joel reminds us. It's a time we follow Jesus' admonition to focus on doing things in secret so that only God sees what we are doing. Lent isn't about showing off our piety to others; it's about deepening our relationship with God, and that is generally something that is done behind the scenes.

Which brings me back to those Instagram couples who continuously post their happy photos. If that report I mentioned is correct, that couples who post lots of pictures are less happy than those who don't, then I think there's a corollary between that and Ash Wednesday/Lent.

Joel says to return to the Lord, and to rend our hearts not our clothing. By tearing our clothing we are making ourselves noticeable to those around us. It's a form of self-promotion that says, “Look at how pious I am.”

Jesus tells us to practice our piety before God in secret, not before others publicly, for the same reason.

The look-at-me culture of Instagram is not a new phenomena, it goes back to the time of Joel and Jesus. Trying to convince other people, the public in general, or your Instagram followers, that you're happy doesn't lead to happiness. What leads to happiness is to work on the relationship with your partner or spouse. . . or God . . . behind the scenes. Spending quality time on your relationship through conversation and prayer leads to a strong, healthy relationship and, ultimately, happiness.

This Lent, don't proclaim to the world what pious acts you're performing. Instead, work on them in secret, changing your heart over time, and drawing ever closer to God.

And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.


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