BY STUART GILLY
Abstinence: ab·sti·nence noun. the fact or practice of restraining oneself from indulging in something.
It is no secret that we live in a world that is moving at the speed of light. If people aren’t constantly engaged in their inboxes, text strings, twitter feeds and Facebook posts, there seems to be an underlying fear of being left behind! It’s so easy to let the buzzing and beeping of our phones and tablets consume our time, thoughts, energy and ultimately our souls. We are in a world where we are so accessible that we are never really disconnected from anything…except from maybe what matters most.
Being in the technology/security industry, my business operates 24/7/365. This leads to phone calls during dinner or text messages coming through in the dead of night. All of which are time sensitive and require my immediate attention… attention that is being taken away from the few short hours we have to spend together as a family each day. I have really tried to put an effort into practicing abstinence with my cell phone in the evenings, especially while the kids are awake. Truth be told, I have celebrated some minor successes in this department, but admittedly this is more of a point of failure than not.
Abstinence, by definition, is a self-restraint or forbearance from an indulgence. It is built in to one of the basic principles which guide our spiritual practices as Methodists as it is considered a means of grace. John Wesley practiced and encouraged abstinence on a weekly basis. He believed that we should practice abstinence as a constant reminder of God’s sacrifices for us and to help us focus on God’s grace in our lives.
Abstinence is probably one of the more unpopular disciplines of our faith, but it can also be one of the most rewarding when achieved. If that is the case, then why is it so hard to faithfully practice abstinence? If it is so rewarding, why is it such a challenge for me to get it right? I think the truth lies in where our hearts and minds are genuinely focused on a daily basis. I have also come to realize that my “failures” per say don’t have to be so definitive. There can be small moments of success that gives us the momentum to keep moving forward.
One area where I have found success with abstinence from technology is in the mornings. We have 3 kids to get out the door by 7:20am, so mornings at the Gilly house are nothing short of chaotic. Up until about a year ago, my morning ritual began with the alarm (on my cell phone) going off. I’d pick up the phone to turn it off, but immediately open my inbox to check emails. Then I’d switch over to Twitter to get a quick news and sports update, do a quick glance through Facebook and maybe even swipe through a few Instagram pics before my feet ever hit the floor. Very valuable time, in my opinion, that could have been put to better use in helping our mornings run more smoothly.
About this time last year, I made a conscious decision not to give my time to these things that were not life giving to my day or to my life for that matter. I was going to abstain from Facebook and Twitter and instead start each day with a devotional. I subscribed to the Upper Room Daily Devotional and never looked back. I start each and every day searching for that devotional and nothing else in my email. I read it all the way through and when I’m done, I put the phone down. I cannot tell you how much of a blessing this small but meaningful act has been. It has given my mornings more sanity and more importantly, it has been the driving force in my spiritual growth this past year. My family has benefitted from both of those things, so in that, I consider this to be a success.
As we approach the season of Lent, it is an ideal time for us Methodists to try to incorporate the practice of abstinence into our lives. If you give up caffeine for 40 days, pray for willpower as you crave a cup of coffee while driving past a Starbucks. If you give up Facebook, read a devotional any time you’d pick up your phone to check in with your “friends” or if you attempt a true fast, ask for God’s fulfillment when hunger creeps up. I’m realizing more and more that abstaining isn’t just about the absence, it is also about what you do to replace it.
What is the difference between success and failure when practicing abstinence? Does it have to be considered a failure if we abstain without 100% success? Or can filling the void with prayer in those times that we do succeed be enough? Prayer, in my experience and very humble opinion, is the deciding factor between success and failure in abstinence. How can you challenge yourself this season of Lent to not only practice abstinence but also commit to filling the void with prayer?
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