Saturday, January 25, 2014

Christianity and Alcohol: 5 Reasons Why I Quit Drinking

I've been drunk. Lots of times. I've made horrible decisions while under the influence, and I've also had enlightening conversations about theology and God. I have been a Bible believer in Christ throughout it all, although my commitment to knowing my Lord personally and following His Word has varied during the course of my drinking days.

I don't drink anymore. Honestly, I stopped mainly because I wanted to get pregnant, then I was pregnant, then I was breastfeeding, then I was pregnant again, and the cycle continued. I only recently stopped having any alcohol at all. I have been on all sides of the alcohol argument that goes on in Christian circles. I grew up believing that alcohol itself was sinful and didn't have my first drink until I was 21.

So anything I say here is not meant as a condemnation. Pot. Kettle. In fact this pot is blacker than your kettle, I'm sure.

There are people who I know and love dearly who do choose to partake in alcohol consumption, and while I do not respect them any less, this fact has caused me to reflect on my stance on the matter to a higher degree that I otherwise would. It has taken me a while to write this post and decide to (gasp!) actually click that taunting orange publish button. I love so many dear ones who could potentially be offended by these words, although that is not my intention in any way. But so many of my thoughts of late keep bringing me back to the topic. I have spent a lot of time mulling over why I feel the prick of conscience that I do in relation to drinking when my loved ones perhaps do not. I just want to pose questions that I have asked myself and am still contemplating the answers to. 

So, Church. Christ-lovers. Dearest friends of mine seeking to know Him on this life journey....
Why the choice to drink alcohol [said with sincere curiosity]?

Oh, I hear you. One or two drinks is not a sin. The Bible only mentions drunkenness. Eh. Debatable. True technically, but there are many passages that talk about peeps getting into trouble because of drinking without specifically mentioning where the subject was on the drunkenness scale.

Ok though. Let's assume that one or two is totally fine, which is probably more where I would tend to agree with. But how many people do you know who really only EVER have one or two at a time? Maybe you can name a couple names of the multiple dear folk you know who imbibe. I, honestly, can't think of anyone. And I also know beloved fellow believers who just choose to ignore the admonitions regarding drunkenness completely (me! me! me! until very recently) and partake in a similar manner as the rest of the world. Sorry, ya'll, but if you claim to be a Bible-follower I'm not sure that there is good argument you can put up for justifying that.

So what is your definition of drunk? Feeling a little "tipsy"? Being totally plastered? Slurring your words? Blacking out? Hmmm... I have done all of those things, and, putting aside the legal limits, I would have to say that the beginning of "being drunk" is when you no longer act like you would completely sober. Such as, I-now-feel-empowered-to-talk-about-my-feelings-when-I-wouldn't-before or I-suddenly-feel-the-need-to-be-more-affectionate-than-I-would-before or my-voice-is-suddenly-slightly-louder-and-I-feel-smarter-than-I-did-before or perhaps I am just much more chatty in general. You get the picture. Also "legally drunk" happens way sooner than you think it does, and that is even a worldly standard, Loved Ones.

And I don't know about you but that feeling, that sense of empowerment, is truly the only reason to really drink in the first place. I mean, c'mon, if I wasn't looking for a certain sensation, I would just have water and save myself the calories. Anyone else feelin' me?

Ok, so let's say that you really do just drink one glass of wine with dinner because you like the taste, and none of the above applies to you. But guess what? It does to me and a huge number of other people who could either be: (a.) Christians who aren't as mature in their faith and may be confused by your decisions or (b.) non-Christians who are watching you. And there are verses about causing others to stumble (1 Cor 10:31-33).

So let me tell you the reasons that I chose to quit drinking (and I really do miss it sometimes).

1. My children
Once again about the causing others to stumble thing (Matt 18:6-9). I have no idea what areas of sin my kids are going to have true, deep struggles with. I was reading a blog the other day that said no one ever chooses to become an alcoholic. I'm sure no teenager ever looked at their socially-drinking parents' wine rack and thought, "gee, I am going to sneak one of those bottles tomorrow, and that first sweet taste is going to be the beginning of a life-long love affair where I alienate everyone I have ever known, choose my liquid idol above all else, and die of liver failure at age 53." No one ever plans for that. But it happens. I don't ever want to be a stumbling block to my children. I'm sure I will cause them to question my choices and their own convictions in many other ways of which I will be unaware at the time. I would rather not add to that list by possibly causing stumbling that was obvious to me. 

2. My past decisions
I have made some doozies while under the influence. Never again, thank you. Enough said. If you haven't gone there, good for you. Don't.

3. I see the control that alcohol has 
If I have one glass of wine with dinner and start to feel that wonderful relaxation feeling, I find myself thinking about how I really want another glass. Every. Single. Time. If I choose to give in, after each subsequent glass, that "need" just keeps compounding, and I just keep wanting more (not that I always would, but I sure would kinda want to). Not everyone struggles with this, but I certainly do. Ephesians 5:18 says, "Do not be drunk with wine, wherein is excess [ain't that the truth]; but be filled with the Spirit." And you know what? I really want to be filled with the Spirit. Can I really hear Him and worship Him and praise Him if I am under the influence of something else?

I have thought a lot lately, too, about what it means to feel the Presence of the Lord. Beth Moore provides a good description; "when the Spirit of Christ in me responds to the Spirit of God around me, I sense His Presence." Obviously it's not like I live in a constant state of sensing His Presence in this way, but I believe that I can't recognize it if I am under the influence of a mind-altering substance (the priests of the tabernacle were not allowed to have any wine or fermented drink when they went into the Tent of Meeting [Lev 10:8-10] - I assume for a similar reason). From my experience, when I can hear God and see His Presence in my life in really meaningful ways, it always means that I have been deliberating choosing to obey His Word and cultivate my relationship with Him. And there is nothing in life better than to know the Presence of my God. To be rich in relationship with Him is only perfected by constantly evaluating junk in my life that is preventing me from experiencing the fullness of that intimacy. And for me, alcohol was junk that got trashed, because I want intimacy more.

4. My testimony
I was at a bar once and got to talking with someone who found out I was a Christian. "So you're a Christian who smokes (I used to do that too) and drinks?" Asked with incredulity. I still remember the slight look of disdain. Obviously that is an extreme case. One that you could pass off if you don't go to bars and don't smoke and don't drink in excess. But are you really portraying a strong testimony with the defensive "what?!-the-Bible-doesn't-say-anything-about-having-one-or-two-drinks-so-I-can" argument? Light and salt, People. In John 17:13-21, Jesus, in a prayer specifically for believers (v20), calls us to be separate. We are to be sanctified by the truth and be in the world but not of the world. Beth Moore again (I'm doing a study by her) states, " about purity - purity maintained in an impure world... What do you deliberately avoid for the sake of purity?" My own conclusion from my conscience (that I have fought with for years) and my continued Bible study tell me that I need to deliberately avoid alcohol. Matt 10:16 says, "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." 

5. The Bible warns about drinking in excess - and I have a problem with wanting to drink in excess (Prov 20:1; Prov 23:20, 29-35). Bottom line. This was one that I really chose to ignore for a long time. I just didn't want to give up the fun that I had when I had drinks with awesome people. Really is nothing else to say about that one.

If you google, "can/should Christians drink," a bizillion things come up - many thoughts from theologians and folks who are much more articulate than I. I have people I am close to on every part of the spectrum as far as thoughts about this topic. It's definitely a hot one. I grew up with a more legalistic view of it, which I don't think is the way to be. But legalism also goes both ways. As a Christian, I can either be legalistic by saying that alcohol is a sin and pointing the finger at others who don't hold that view, or I can be legalistic by getting super offended at all those "alcohol-is-a-sin" sayers and talking about how they are nothing but a bunch of zealots. As believers in Christ, we need to choose to focus on the Gospel and the Love that unites us rather than always picking apart each other over everything that we differ on. 

So why write a post about it? 

Because if there is anything I've learned in my life, it's that if I am struggling with something, there are others struggling with the exact same thing. Those experiences that are "common to man" (1 Cor 10:13). Obviously this post is from my experience only (except for the Scripture part), but if you are struggling with your stance on alcohol as a believer in Christ, I hope you are more clear after reading this. The fact that your conscience is being pricked at all is probably one of the biggest red flags that maybe something needs to change. 

Open your Bible. Study. Don't take my word for it.

UPDATE 5/16/16: I have learned so many things since writing this blog post. When I wrote this, I was coming from a place of frustration, not understanding why those close to me did not have the conviction in this area that I did. I had a life-altering conversation with a lovely, godly friend who I respect very much. I learned through real experience, not just "church talk," that I am not responsible for convicting others and not everyone has the same convictions as I do. It was very freeing. I had become enslaved to alcohol, but not in the traditional way. Instead of thinking about drinking all the time, I was thinking about how everyone else shouldn't be drinking all the time. Here I thought I was all free from this stronghold, but I really had just becoming captive to it in a different way. 

I studied more in Scripture about alcohol and learned that there are actually many instances where wine is mentioned in a positive light. Looking at the whole picture, I have concluded that there is a definite line, and each person must be listening to the Holy Spirit for guidance as to where that line is. I actually still agree with pretty much everything I said above, especially for myself, but I know that much of it comes from a subjective place based on my experience and failings. If you see me have a glass of wine with dinner, it's because I have confidently found that line in my own life by studying God's Word daily and surrendering my thoughts and questions about it to Him. The one big thing that has changed from my original post is I no longer feel the need to continue with another and another. I pray God will always convict me to abstain if the issue at all is a stumbling block for someone else. I thank the Lord for His grace and patience as He taught me and continues to reveal truths about this difficult and culturally complicated subject matter. Only His truth is relevant. 

Open your Bible. Study. Don't take my word for it.

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Galatians 5:1

Jack - 6 Months

This is a month late, but here are some 6-month pictures of Jack Attack. He is the smiliest baby in the whole world, and he loves everyone. He loves to be on his tummy and "fly."

All ready for our move to Minnesota

At our church in Monterey