Weapons of Self-Restraint

Part 2 in a series of Lenten reflections on technology and spirituality.

On Ash Wednesday, we prayed this collect at the beginning of our church service:

Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

What I found most striking from this prayer was the image of arming ourselves with “weapons of self-restraint.” Typically, we think of weapons as extensions of our power. They make whatever physical strength we have faster, sharper, harder, and more dangerous. Likewise, extension can be a helpful framework in which to think about technology, as Marshall McLuhan noted in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Like weapons which extend our human capacity for violence, our technology extends some other human capacity. Shoes are an extension of our feet, a shovel is an extension of our hands, and computer code is an extension of our mind.

But what we don’t think about when we talk about weapons (or technology) is self-restraint. In fact, self-restraint is usually the last thing we think about when we use technology. When we use technology, we are extending and strengthening our personal influence on the world. We assert ourselves. We make bigger footprints with our shoes than we would with our feet. We dig deeper holes with shovels than we do with our hands. And we can process data astronomically faster with computer code than we can with our mind alone.

So how are we to think of weapons of self-restraint? The three main weapons that we reference for Lent are fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. But unlike what we usually think of as weapons, these spiritual weapons extend our capacity to put limits on ourselves. They serve two purposes. First, by denying ourselves we gain power over our appetites. We strengthen our ‘denial muscles’ by giving up meat or not eating for a day or even just giving up something as small as salt so that when we face a bigger temptation, we are able to overcome it. Second, and most importantly, by denying ourselves we unite ourselves to Christ. We know that by denying ourselves we are united to a God who denied himself for us. In whatever small way that we suffer, we honor and join ourselves to Jesus’ suffering for us.

Thinking about these weapons of self-restraint in this way also serves as a helpful corrective to a way we may be tempted to think about fasting pragmatically. Many food fasts are promoted as cleanses or ways to lose weight, but those are different than the fasting that we practice during Lent. As Gracy Olmstead at the American Conservative explained:

“In religious fasting, a lack of eating is not focused on dietary benefits. It is meant to be a time of focus on larger, more important things than bodily craving. In fasting, we center on the spiritual, and step away temporarily from the physical. Yet in that stepping away, we learn to appreciate the goodness of food and drink. Fasting brings us to thankfulness. We eventually return to savor the goodness of the things we left.”

Likewise, we need to remind ourselves to focus on the spiritual as we fast from technology during Lent. Stepping away from Facebook or from our smart phones or the news feed of your choice may give us more time or help us be more thoughtful, but we should always be careful to let that benefit bubble up into our spiritual life and not get bogged down in other concerns. Just as hunger pangs during fasting are helpful spurs to prayer, we should train ourselves to use the itch to check for messages or refresh our news feed as a call to prayer.

The primary purpose of any fasting that we do during Lent should be to call us to prayer and repentance. It can be tempting to use Lent as time to lose weight or shed bad technological habits, but we should remember that the true purpose of our weapons of self-restraint isn’t to extend ourselves in the normal way but to deny ourselves. Instead of extending our reach and our power, we practice self-denial to go beyond ourselves, serve others, and be in union with God. And maybe, at the end of Lent, we can return and see what we fasted from, be it food, Facebook or phones, in a new light.


deactivate facebook for lent


Other articles

Support Second Nature

Second Nature depends on the generous donations of readers like you.

Second Nature is published by the International Institute for the Study of Technology and Christianity (IISTC), a 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to studying technology in light of the Christian tradition.

Your generous contributions make this work possible. Please consider donating today to help us continue this important work.

About the Contributor

Benjamin Robertson

Benjamin Robertson
Benjamin Robertson is a founding editor at Second Nature. He has worked in advertising for the Chicago Tribune and Gannett, and now is a web developer at Mediacurrent. He studied Communications and Media Studies under Dr. Read Schuchardt at Wheaton College in Illinois. He has presented papers on Marshall McLuhan, media ecology, and Christianity at the Media Ecology Association, National Communication Association, and the McLuhan's Philosophy of Media Centennial Conference in Brussels. He lives with his wife, Ruth, in Greenville, SC. His personal website is benrobertson.io

Speak Your Mind


Support Second Nature

If you find value in the work we do at Second Nature, please consider making a modest donation. Every donation, no matter how small, is a huge encouragement to us in our work.