As soon as midnight struck and we ushered the new year of 2020, I began my Facebook and Instagram fast. I deleted the Facebook app, logged out of my personal Instagram, moved Instagram all the way to the back of my home page scrolls and turned off all notifications.
The most important thing about a fast is that it has to cost you. It’s got to be sacrificial. But it’s not about producing agony or earning the right to a ‘woe-is-me’ get-out-of-jail-free-card.
A fast is about giving up something that means a lot to you, giving it back to God so you can have more capacity to spend time with Him. It’s about building resiliency on His presence, instead of material sustenance.
I’ve never fasted successfully other than a 30-hour fast to raise awareness about world hunger back in high school, but that was successful only because we did the last 24 hours as a lock-in (think a whole bunch of teenagers locking themselves overnight in a church willingly). The last attempt at fasting meat lasted for 2 full days before I legitimately forgot I was on a fast and ate a whole piece of steak.
Before the fast, I was spending close to 3-4 hours a day on my phone just on social media, with most of it on Facebook and Instagram. That’s 1/6th of my day I could be doing literally anything else. So I decided to give 1/6th of my day back to God.
My fast needed to be flexible enough to stay in touch with the world and get work done, so I kept my Twitter and LinkedIn alive. I allowed myself to view Facebook only on my work laptop, and keep Messenger on my phone. As for Instagram, I kept my work Instagram on my phone, but I would not log into my own account on any device for the entire fast.
Another practical thing I did to keep myself in check was that I’d be tempted to do more mindless social media scrolling. So at the same time as my fast, I started The Shred, which is to read the entire Bible in 30 days. Something to keep me occupied with all the free time while drawing me closer to God.
I also continued my Duolingo Spanish learning because the fidgeting habits would get very real. ¡Creo que aprender espanol es muy divertido!
I’d like to clarify: a fast doesn’t need to have this many rules. My friend’s fast was just ‘rice’ and it’s as simple as avoid rice. The amount of terms and conditions I placed around my fast was to hold me accountable because I know how my brain works to find loopholes to justify breaking the fast, so I insured the risks of temptation before I started, which was using work to justify social media usage, and finding a replacement activity for the spare time from the social media vacancy.
If I thought 2019 was a crazy year, 2020 was just picking up where 2019 left off. My life was off-the-charts overwhelming.
2020 began with family members not talking to one another, crying myself to sleep, and being unable to stay up during New Year’s Lunch (this wasn’t just tired, it was the sudden need to sleep out of nowhere and being unable to stay awake even if I was eating), marking the beginning of a new set of health problems.
Then before the first week of 2020 could end, I was back in Beijing for work despite not feeling like 100%. And after my flight back to Hong Kong was delayed causing me to miss a family friend’s wedding, my health completely went downhill.
The next week, my health continued to plummet as I had to deal with a range of personal relational failures, misunderstandings and resentment. That same weekend, I dealt with the worst physical pains of my life. It’s the kind of sharp pain that kept me up all night, made me partially immobile. The kind that causes me to wake my parents up at 2AM in tears.
So, as I write this post at the end of my fast, I am emotionally and physically wrecked. Normally my mode of dealing with pain is to distract myself, to avoid. When my main tool for distraction was taken away, there was no running away other than running to the Bible.
And if I were a Good Christian Girl, I would say something perky like reading the Bible inspired hope and light into my life when I was in the dark places of life!
When in actuality, reading the Bible on a fast is one of the hardest things to do. Most people starve themselves from food because it’s the most tangible way to become hungry for God, literally. But for me, I starved myself of inspiration and information (because most of my time is spent on social media), so now God and His Word became my main source of inspiration and information.
Coincidentally, the first 23 days of The Shred is all in the Old Testament. The New Testament only begins on 24th January. So I actually got to experience a glimpse of the pre-Jesus life, a small fraction of the insatiable longing and yearnings for the fulfillment of promise of eternal hope and peace.
It was so hard to chew on back-to-back-to-back stories about disobedient kings incurring God’s wrath when the nausea wouldn’t relent.
I could barely feign interest in the dimensions of God’s ancient temples when I don’t know how to care for ancient architecture on a regular, healthy day.
Looking for Jesus Easter Eggs throughout the Old Testament lost its novelty when all I wanted to do was hear Jesus’ comforting words right now.
The last 2 days of my fast were brutal because I knew it was coming to an end. So when the clock struck midnight on January 23rd 2020, I thanked God I made it this far, and instantly logged back into my personal Instagram.
I knew the Instagram reunion would be underwhelming. But I didn’t expect myself to want to do another fast again. While I love being in touch with all my friends and knowing how their curated life is, I enjoyed not comparing my life with other people. I enjoyed the isolation.
The brightest side of this entire fast is that instead of spending 3-4 hours a day on Instagram, I’m down to 1 hour per day. And I hope it stays that way. But if it ever gets worse again, I’ll just do a fast again. What have I got to lose other than my Instagram followers? After all, I have Twitter.
Looking back, I would never wish the kind of January I went through on my worst enemy. Doing a fast on top of The Shred (and maintaining a Duolingo streak), along with health problems, while holding a job and trying to maintain relationships is just not fun or easy. No recomendo, es muy difícil.
As I write this post at the end of January, I am fatigued and drained.
Sleep hasn’t been great; my digestive system’s a little out of whack; some part of my body is always in discomfort or better yet, pain. Work is demanding (but exciting). I’m homesick for all the places I love; I miss all my people all over the world. I’m still learning to call Hong Kong home in the middle of this coronavirus outbreak, in the middle of the protests, in the middle of the most cramped city on earth.
But it was in my emptiness that I found fullness in God.
Reading through the Old Testament during the roughest days of my life has taught me that God is so faithful.
After a flood, there is a promise. After 40 years in the desert, the walls of Jericho comes down. After a season of bad rulers and evil kings, there is one righteous leader who tries to right the wrongs, who tries to pursue holiness even when his past has been tainted.
Even though Jesus and the Holy Spirit technically haven’t ‘arrived’ yet in the Old Testament, I got to witness so many instances of their presence, influence and foreshadowing which just gave me so much hope for when I finally would get to the New Testament.
Going back to my intention behind this fast, I did this fast to re-calibrate my soul for the year and the decade ahead. I wanted my year and this decade to be built on reliance on God, because in theory, His presence is enough.
My gut somehow knew that 2020 would be a crucial year, and so far – it’s not wrong. So while this may be the hardest month of 2020 yet (probably not), I’m grateful for the fast because I’m reminded His presence may not feel like enough, but it’s not about feeling, because the truth, the fact, the reality is: He is more than enough.
The year and this decade did not start off on an easy note, but it is a strong note. How awesome is it that I get to begin this new chapter with the foundation that God is always good even when life is bad.
God is still gracious while I’m angry at Him, when I make mistakes, when I sin, because He has chosen me for His story before Adam was created from dust.
God is the same loving, forgiving, all-remembering, holy Father back then, before He sent Jesus down to His death, as He is now, after bringing His only Son back to life.