Let’s Get Spiritual: Retreat from Facebook!

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What to give up, what to give up, what to give up.  The other week I was reading my dad’s blog as I prepared to take the high school and middle school students at IAS off on the annual three day Spiritual Emphasis Retreat in Reu, Guatemala.  The retreat is a time where we step away from our regular classes and challenge our students to grow spiritually.  It is also a time to get to know the students on a more personal level.  I love everything about retreat, even all of the pranks that the kids like to play.  Anyway, my dad wanted to know what his readers were giving up for Lent.  Typically I only give up silly things for Lent, like lint or I give up on giving up things.  So, what makes this year different?  Spiritual Emphasis Retreat challenged me to take my time with God a little more seriously.  On Tuesday Mr. McNabb (The school’s director who has no relation to Donavan McNabb) challenged all of the students to be salt and light.

Fun fact there are 14,000 known uses for salt and one of the most interesting is that it has to be present in all Jewish sacrificial offerings.  When Jews fast for God they do not give up salt because you cannot give up God, so they continually add God to their lives.

So, I felt challenged to give something up for Lent.  I wanted to feel challenged in my daily life and see how God added himself back into it.  But what to give up, what to give up, what to give up?

As I finished reading my dad’s blog all of the high schoolers and middle schoolers boarded big chicken busses that would take us down to Reu for the retreat.  As we bounded down the Pan-American Highway, sometimes passing slower moving cars when no sane person would pass, I committed myself to leading my students by good examples.  My hope was that they would see God in me, through my actions.  The theme for our time in Reu was New Beginnings.  I believe it’s hard to start anew if I first don’t give up something old.  How can God speak into my life if I am too busy with the daily routine or worrying about who’s commented on my Facebook wall.

And so I tried to put aside thoughts of Facebook, man I hope they like my current status, and tried to enjoy the best thing about retreat; life with out distractions.  Spiritual Emphasis Retreat is a real time to focus on God because, besides all of the blackberries my students have, we are away from it all.  And on this retreat I really felt like we came together as one and did not let our normal everyday routines and addictions hinder us.  I mean it was a challenge at times because I just wanted to know if my little sister was on Facebookchat so I could talk to her.

Fortunately, I really enjoyed leading discussion groups with Hugo, Luis Pe, Oscar, Lenin, Jose Pab, Sani, and Kain.  I’ve taught most of these boys for the last three years and so some of our discussions were very deep.  Like who’s hotter Salma Hayek or Penelope Cruz.  No wait–that was an argument I had with two grown men.  The boys and I talked about our choices and how they affect our lives.  They wanted to know why I have chosen to wait to have sex until marriage and that led into their thoughts on abortion and the responsibilities of being a teen father.  I might not have had all of the answers, but what I tried to tell them is, we all make choices and we must live with the consequences.  I challenged them to be the men God created them to be, which I believe means not backing down from the difficulties life throws at us.

And so how can I expect them to face the big challenges in life if I am not even facing the smaller challenges.  As retreat went by and maybe because I wasn’t getting any sleep (you try to stop six 14 and 15 year old boys from sneaking out of the room to go prank and manage to attain a wink of sleep as well) I felt God challenging me to give up something that I knew would be difficult to live with out; Facebook.  As funny as it sounds it’s a big part of my life and as I write this I am five days into my fast and it’s been difficult.

On Thursday, the second day of retreat, Miss Cromwell, the school’s principal, spoke about how media affects our lives.  Two years ago none of the students had blackberries or iPhones, now they are constantly connected.  I found myself in several conversations about what our lives would be like if we were not on Facebook.

I remember my life before Facebook and now I check it every day.  It has ingrained itself into my existence.  Like James Cameron it directs my daily schedule, yet my life is no Avatar.  I am a real human being who wakes up everyday and checks Facebook; my online life.  I fill my free time flipping through photo albums on Facebook, constantly friending and defriending, liking and commenting, chatting and thinking up witty statuses for people to comment on.  Facebook is a powerful form of media, it might even be how you found this blog.  Media as a whole influences everyone in many different ways, not all of them bad (my blog), but I am not sure I want Facebook to have the influence it has on me.  I do not want to live my life online.

At dinner on the second night I was sitting with Ale, Sharom, Dani, and Gaby.  We were talking about media and the importance of tuning out some of the lies it tries to sell us, what we should look like and what we should buy, and the importance of placing God at the center of our lives.  Right then and there I decided I needed to take a fast from Facebook, and what better time to do it than Lent.  How can I challenge my students to place God first in their lives if I am not willing to do so myself?  Only Ale took me up on my idea of giving up Facebook for Lent.  I am excited for both of us.

Retreat ended and we all went back to our normal lives, but I hope that the little break from normality stirs a desire for change in each of my student’s lives.  I do not know if they have decided to use Lent as a greater retreat and a time to focus on God, but I hope, even if they don’t give anything up, that they do start to add God into their lives in a greater quantity.

Even though we all are now back and in our separate homes and disconnected from each other (not a bad thing, I am enjoying not having to room with 6 high school boys) I hope what God accomplished on retreat keeps us connected on a spiritual level.  I hope my retreat from Facebook helps me realize more of what God has for me.

The worst thing, for me, about retreats is that they end and I go home and have to spend time alone.  Giving up Facebook has only magnified that feeling.  Right now I feel disconnected.  I will publish this blog and it will appear on Facebook, but I wont be able to log onto Facebook to tell people to go read it.  I can only hope people do.  Maybe that is the kind of faith God wants me to have.  He will keep me connected to him no matter what.  My life doesn’t have to be lived online to be connected to those around me.  And so I hope I am able to add a little faith into my disconnected life, which I am now living apart from Facebook.

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