When fasting from Instagram is harder than giving up meat on Fridays …

Stroll with Nicole

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Nicole Law’s offers a very 21st century take on Lent.

I glance at my friend’s plate and can’t help but feel a tinge of envy. Hers is piled high with fried chicken pieces and the aroma is mounting an assault on my senses. She notices my discomfort and remarks – “It’s Lent again is it, Nicole?” 

I glance at my own plate of white rice and vegetables and guilt creeps in. Here I am struggling to abstain from meat on Fridays in Lent (as we Catholics are required to) and salivating at the sight of my favourite fried chicken. What does this say about me? It says that I am very much human and that I struggle too! 

Coveting my friend’s fried chicken stems from the idea that I think I will be better off in some sense if I were to feast on it, despite what my religion tells me. This is not too different from scrolling on social media and letting envy rear its ugly head when I see other people checking off items on the checklist called Life – a wedding announcement, a promotion at work, a new baby, a swanky new home. The list is endless and the jealousy is an ugly but very human emotion. 

Instagram

Many people live their lives in this cycle of envy and temptation. We desire what we do not have – either permanently or temporarily – and we become imprisoned by these desires. We suffer from the oft-mentioned FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). It appears that we have not been invited to partake in specific checkpoints of life and realise that we will never measure up to the societal indicators of personal success. This leads us to think that we have been deprived of something truly essential – and that what is important to other people, must be important for us too. 

Lent is a curious time, where we attempt to overthrow that mindset and practise abstinence. Some fast from meat, others from social media. The concept remains – we practise healthy detachment from things that are eating away at our focus on what really matters. 

We know we are too attached to these things when we start to experience a sense of emptiness in their absence and feel tempted to indulge in them. If I were unaffected by my friend’s plate of fried chicken, it would either mean I had no interest in it or that I had reached a stage of progressive detachment. 

Abstinence is not easy – we struggle, we are tempted to give in to our own desires and needs, we would rather choose the easier path of little resistance. 

A few months ago, I noticed that I was spending excessive time on my phone and by extension on social media. I decided to enact some emergency rescue plans and switch my phone off for a period of time. For the first few days I felt I was experiencing withdrawal symptoms and was tempted to turn on the device, if only for a few minutes – just to check whether any important emails were coming in. 

If truth be told, I was simply rationalising my own behaviour and justifying my desires and curiosity. I fought the urge to press the button and the inner wrestling was a very 21st century iteration of the age-old experience of the mind waging a battle against the human flesh – the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. 

As I gazed at the mobile phone, I experienced a deep FOMO, ruminating about all the latest events and developments in my friends’ lives that I was missing out on. This felt like Abstinence 2.0 for me, beyond craving for fried chicken on my friend’s plate; now I was well and truly detaching myself from the REAL thing, the thing I was really attached to. 

The temptation always lingered – all I had to do was scroll through my phone and turn it off again, an inner voice said to me. Yet, that would defeat the purpose of breaking my dependence and unhealthy connection with the device. As I started to practise this detachment incrementally, I found myself feeling less mentally burdened and, on a quiet day, I glimpsed a white bird outside my window.

White bird

For the first time in a long while, my attention was caught by something other than what was going on on my phone screen. 

This Lent, I know that I will struggle once more with my love for fried chicken, but then again, is not true love borne of sacrifice? We know we truly love someone when we are willing to give up something we feel we cannot live without for the sake of that person. And I want to love God. 

All religious traditions have seen sacrifice as a form of prayer and of recognising divine sovereignty over creation. God does not need my sacrifice but by doing without some pleasure, I am recognising him as the giver of gifts: I will not consume them greedily, I will learn to say no to my whims. 

And love also exposes our attachments and challenges us to detach ourselves from them, such that we can attach ourselves wholeheartedly to the one we love.

I follow the Christian tradition of linking my Lenten sacrifices to the sacrifice of Christ, whom I believe came to earth to sacrifice himself for me, and my hope is that by walking the path of abstinence, I will start to tune out the distractions that overwhelm me. I will turn my gaze away from unhealthy attachments and towards his self-giving love for me and maybe learn to practise it myself in some small way. 

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