I've been thinking a lot about the place of drinking alcohol in my life. I lived the first 34 years of my life without ever knowing what it was like to be "drunk." In fact, I hardly ever touched alcohol. I wanted to be different from everybody else.
In high school, I remember feeling abandoned a bit when I was the only remaining person in my tight-knit group of friends, but I still found a way to hold onto my badge and keep my separate identity. I was known as being the guy who "didn't need alcohol" to "act crazy", often settling for mass quantities of sugar and caffeine found in 2-liter bottles of Mountain Dew.
This translated into college even more deeply. I even became part of a fraternity, though I was known for being the "only sober one" at a party, yet one of the "craziest" dudes there. My refusal to drink became not only a source of identity but also a crutch of sorts. It became an excuse to cover up for the fact that I felt so unbelievably insecure and out-of-place amongst my peers, especially the opposite sex.
And into married life I brought my conviction to abstain from drinking and drugs, and then into my Christian faith. Yes, I was a mere pagan during all of those years of abstinence from drinking. It was part of a group of convictions. The bottom line was that by this age in life I was fairly used to the idea that I did not feel like I fit with anybody else nor did I really want to be like anybody else. Occasionally, we were invited to weddings and such, and I had the opportunity to get a little silly with a glass of wine or champagne at the table. But that's it.
All of that changed during a very difficult time in my life a few years ago. I loosened up those reigns a bit. I realized that I spent so much of my life avoiding things that maybe weren't that big of a deal and, and here's the clincher, I "deserved" to have a good time, given that and all the difficulty I had experienced.
To make a long story short, in my relatively short drinking career of a few years, I never really became a regular binge drinker. I have only experienced probably twice what is commonly called a "hangover". And only twice have I been unable to remember small parts of the previous night. I also don't merely drink to get loaded -I only drink things, usually craft beers, that I like. I realized quickly what things I do not like, and I avoid them even though something like a "shot" could get me hammered pretty quickly. I just don't like how it tastes or makes me feel, and I don''t like the nasty after-taste or heartburn in the morning.
In the home, it became more and more common for me to have a few beers in the fridge. During this past summer, it was not uncommon for me to crack open a single bottle of beer a few nights a week, while cooking or to relax at the end of the day. Sometimes, when stressed out, I would crack open a bottle to unwind.
Slowly, my 1-2 beer tolerance increased until I noticed that it took more than a beer or two to get me feeling buzzed and bordering on super-goofy. So, as I noticed lately, I've had to drink more to get to that stage. No, not an exorbitant amount, not more than average by any stretch, but more than I have had to before.
And you know what... although I have been burned a bit on drinking too much, I still occasionally like to have a beer and I probably will continue to every now and then. But in all of this experience over the past few years, and given my gratuitous attempt over the last few paragraphs to give you an accurate picture of the place of drinking alcohol in my life, there are a few things I realized about drunkenness and myself when drunk that I do not like one bit.
At this point maybe I should define my term. When I say "drunk" I am essentially talking about that state in which your mental and physical faculties are impaired and your demeanor, attitude, words, and actions are less and less under your control. I now consider myself to be "drunk" when I am acting like a fool and have no sense of myself because of the alcohol. While I did not crack out my Greek Lexicon, I'm pretty sure this at least resembles the meaning found in various places in the Bible.
So, what are my conclusions? Well, to begin with I don't like how drinking too much alcohol hooks into my desire to impress people and be the center of attention. If I have to act like a fool to grab people's attention and be memorable to them, then perhaps I'm hanging with the wrong crowd of people. And you know what? Deep down I know that, and it feels lonely. It's a crutch and a way to avoid the fact that most other people are there for the same, shallow thing. I also realized that I often drink too much as a way to make something more entertaining than it actually is. Sometimes, sitting at a bar is just plain boring.
But probably the worst thing about drinking too much is that I feel like a divided person. I do not feel that I accurately represent who I am. When I can't form cogent sentences and let almost anything fly out of my mouth, I actually shame who I really am. It is hard to represent my life and potential and character when I'm drunk and acting like a moron. And more importantly it is hard to represent Jesus and my love for Him and what He has done when I'm acting like a drunk fool. In fact, I feel as though I should hide that part of myself. I feel like I should pretend for a moment that I'm not a Christian, hoping that I won't bump into people I know who know that I am one, so that I will not bring shame to His name. That's a pretty strong indication that you know you're doing something wrong.
Why hide? Because although I am quite aware that Jesus is a friend of sinners, and a sinner is what I am, it doesn't really show that I value Him very much when I'm acting like a drunk dumbass. It would be like a guy hanging out at a strip club, getting lap dances every night, while sharing with the ladies how much he loves and respects his wife. He's either clueless, a liar, or a hypocrite. If I saw that in real life, I would feel embarrassed him and sorry for his wife.
Or step my example down a bit. Let's say you bump into a few parents, or maybe some of the teachers, from the school your children go to. "See... your problem is that you care too much about what people think about you." No. I care too much about what people think of my kids. I do not want my actions to be a blight on the reputation and honor of my children and the family they belong to.
So it is with Jesus. I don't want to do anything that would devalue Jesus in anybody's eyes. I can't stop people from rejecting Jesus, but let it be because they reject Him for Him, because they hate the truth, and not because I'm acting like a fool or stumbling, loud-mouthed jerk. I shame myself and Him.
In a culture where everybody is so hopped up on their personal freedom to do whatever retarded thing they want with no sense of shame for debasing themselves, shame is sometimes a good thing. It shows you value something. It shows you value yourself and the ideas and, more importantly, the people you represent.
Probably the most sinister thing about drinking too much? Well, the Bible warns about it more than once. While Jesus had zero problem turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana, and while the apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to drink a little wine to help his stomach and nerves, the New Testament epistles state clearly that drunkards (among others) will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
How can this be? I thought we are not saved by our works? True, we are saved by Christ's work on our behalf, which is ours through faith. The typical Christian answer is that a "true believer" won't live in those condemned ways. They may stumble and fall and make mistakes, but they will not lose their lifestyle to those things. This is true to a large degree, though it leaves out the possibility of sins of weakness that we struggle and battle with our entire lives, but I think the bigger problem is that each time you go down this road (or down the road of lust or whatever other thing), each time you make the conscious choice to keep going, you put yourself in a position where you choose the alcohol over your connection with Jesus. And if you continually make the conscious choice to indulge in that direction and make excuses for how it is "okay", you have to continue to dull your conscience, and therefore your faith. The scary part? Lying to yourself gets easier and easier with time until you don't feel guilty at all.
So, I postulate that the reason why the apostle Paul warned of those things is because he knew how they eventually win. Those people will not inherit the Kingdom because they will have departed from it. Eventually, we walk away from Jesus, our faith dies, and the scariest part of all is that we don't even see it happening or care to stop it. With every little step we take, we deceive ourselves into thinking it is not a big deal and that we are allowed a "mistake" every now and then, until we wake up one day and we no longer really care. But since we don't care, we don't worry about it. We may never disavow Jesus with our words, we may always intellectually call ourselves Christians, but one day we may realize that our faith is a distant memory and be too calloused to care.
In the end, I don't want to dump the faith I've been given, and I don't want to indulge in something that masks and distorts who I really am and who I really love.