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Many give up social media for lent, religious leaders say it's 'refreshing'

Add up all the time you spend liking things on Facebook, pinning on Pinterest or tweeting on Twitter and it probably takes up hours every week, maybe even a few hours every day.

For many Christians who observe Lent, a time-waster like social media can be the perfect thing to give up in favor of using that time on prayer or personal development.

"They offer these things up because they want to simplify or slow down during Lent to focus more on Jesus," said the Rev. Craig Vasek, associate pastor at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in East Grand Forks and a chaplain for Sacred Heart School.

He said he sees many people choosing to give up Facebook or other social media for Lent.

Dallon Bitz, a UND student, said he is giving up Facebook for Lent because he knows it's something he spends "probably too much" time on.

"In my family, Lent was always supposed to be a sacrifice," Bitz said. He thinks it'll be challenging, but the point of Lent is to offer something that's difficult to give up, he said.

Refraining from social media can be a way of choosing what to focus on.

"For some, it helps them be a better steward of the gift of time," said the Rev. Kathy Fick, campus minister at Christus Rex Lutheran Campus Center near UND.

Fick said her faith observes Lent as a time of both personal betterment and serving the community before Easter. People who give up social media often see it as making time for those improvements, she said.

"They ask, 'Is (social media) something that gets in the way of my focus?'"

Devoting time

Julie Moravchik, a Catholic and news director at WDAZ-TV in Grand Forks, said she gives up sweets and desserts every year for Lent, but this year she added Facebook to her list.

She usually checks Facebook every night before bed, she said, and although she means for it to only be 15 minutes, that can sometimes turn into half an hour or more.

So for the 40 days of Lent that started Wednesday, Moravchik is going to read her Bible before bed instead, she said.

Moravchik recently read an article asking, "How do you want to be remembered by your children, reading your phone or reading your Bible?" and that made it clear that Facebook was the right thing for her to give up for Lent this year.

"I don't want my children to think of me that way," she said.

But giving up Facebook won't be easy, Moravchik said. "It's going to be interesting because I'm hooked."

While Theresa Nuar, Catholic missionary with the Newman Center at UND, also sees a lot of people give up social media for Lent, she said she won't give it up for Lent because she's already disciplined with her time on social media.

"You shouldn't give it up just because everybody else is doing it," Nuar said. When people ask her if Facebook is good to give up for Lent, she tells them to ask themselves, "Is what you're giving up going to help you grow in your relationship with God?"

Many people say they feel "refreshed," after giving up social media for the 40 days of Lent, Vasek said. "They're replacing the time with something that's noble and holy."

Moravchik said she anticipates giving up Facebook to be "tougher than I think it's going to be," but added, "really, I'll be just fine."

"Wish me luck," she said.