By Karen Hice Guzmán

I Gave Up Multitasking for Lent

I did not grow up in a faith tradition that observed Lent. In college, I had a number of friends who would “give something up” for Lent each year. Usually it was chocolate and it wasn’t clear to me why. It’s only been in recent years with help from others (friends, authors, teachers) that I have come to understand Lent as one of the seasons in the Christian year and appreciate what it offers us.

On Ash Wednesday, my church read this passage from the Book of Common Prayer:

“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the
observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance;
by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and
meditating on God's holy Word.”

Pretty much none of the things in this “invitation” come easily to me or are, if I am honest, appealing. Who likes self-denial? But as I have discovered, leaning into spiritual practices — even those which are difficult — over time brings gifts that may not otherwise come.

During the six weeks of Lent, fasting for some means giving up a particular item they enjoy (coffee, sweets, meat). Some fast from food entirely on given days. Still others fast from experiences or interactions or engagements (Facebook, TV, etc.). Alternatively, I know people who have taken on certain practices for Lent, giving of themselves or serving in ways they don't at other times of the year.

As I considered what my Lenten practice might be this year, I found myself wanting something that would challenge and form me in the place(s) I am most resistant. The Enneagram has been a helpful tool for self-understanding, especially around my weaknesses. As I’ve learned about the Enneagram, I’ve discovered I identify with Enneagram type 3. Important things to know about us 3’s:

  • Our basic identity is that of The Achiever or The Effective Person.
  • Our basic fear is of being worthless.
  • Our basic desire is to feel valuable and worthwhile.

It was a quick step, then, to discern that my self-denial practice for Lent 2024 would be to give up multitasking. What I did not realize, however, is how hard this would be and how much it would mess with me! Think about it … no email checking while on a Zoom call. No ironing while giving a “last listen” to my team’s next podcast. No phone calls while driving. I’m still trying to decide if I can listen to Pray As You Go while driving, because that’s kind of the point!

Productivity. Accomplishment. Success. I am all about efficiency and getting things done because in doing so, I prove I am worth the air I breathe. I may have written items on my to-do list that I already did just so I can scratch them off and feel good about my effectiveness. Not multitasking has cramped my style, for sure. It has slowed me down, significantly reducing the number of tasks I can get to in a day. My list has so many things not scratched off. This has, in turn, forced me to revisit my identity and where I get my sense of worth. It’s not that I’ve learned anything new, per se, but this fast has pressed upon me again — I am a slow learner! — the need to ground my sense of self in who I am in Christ. Anything I accomplish adds nothing to this “settledness.” It’s also caused me to see how I value others based on how much they can contribute to my productivity — ouch! I have been reminded over and over that I am not what I do and neither are you.

On the flip side, not multitasking has enabled me to give my full attention to projects and, more importantly, to people. Self-denial has often meant sitting and listening attentively — not thinking about things I need to get done or another topic I find more interesting. I have had to be more conscious of my calendar and limiting my commitments, but if you call me or text me or show up on my Zoom screen, you have my full attention. This, in turn, reminds me that I am seen, listened to, and known by God which further grounds me. 

Lent began with the words “from dust you have come and to dust you shall return” as ashes marked a cross on my forehead; mortality pressed into my skin. Choosing the way of singularity (doing one thing at a time) has forced me to make friends with my limitations rather than fight them. Human beings are finite creatures existing within boundaries and constraints. In Working from the Inside Out (our WSAP book club this semester), Jeff Haanen writes:

“Calling is comprehensive, involves constraint, and requires consent.”

Haanen goes on to describe these three characteristics, reminding us that calling “touches all arenas of life,” that “our limitations are part of God’s plans,” and that consenting to our real-life circumstances means responding to God’s invitation “to experience him in this moment, right here, right now.” 

This Lenten practice has forced me to embrace my humanity, including not being able to do everything I can or want to do. Instead, I am invited to grow in discernment — learning what is mine to do and letting go of that which is not.

Some people discover when they get to the end of Lent that whatever they gave up has lost its appeal (except for chocolate, of course). Many feel a sense of freedom and leave a habit behind. Others go back to enjoying whatever they set aside for the season, but with a deeper sense of gratitude and an appreciation for the ways our habits and loves shape us. I suspect I will pick up multitasking after Easter — it’s hard to iron and not do something — but I hope it will be in a different, more limited way. I hope my sense of self will be more profoundly rooted in who I am in Christ. I hope being fully present will become more “second nature”, showing up to my work and to others as my full self — not distracted by things around me clamoring for my attention. When you call me, I’ll be all yours!

What about you? Are you “putting on” or “taking off” something for Lent? How is it going and what are you learning?


Photo by Christina Morillo on StockSnap

About the Author

Karen Hice Guzmán is the Director of Women Scholars and Professionals. Except for some years taken off to raise children, Karen has spent her adult life in and around InterVarsity. She loves to use her gifts of hospitality and teaching to create a welcome place to connect with God and one another. Karen has a BS in Horticulture from Michigan State University and lives in Marietta, Georgia. She and her husband have three adult sons and a daughter-in-law. She loves dark chocolate, good coffee, and British TV. 

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