Riding a donkey while impaired is a lot less risky than driving a car. Technology has greatly expanded our effect on the world around us. When I first thought about this years ago, my primary concern was the machinery we have in our lives that magnify the impact of our impaired judgment. Since then, with the communications power of computers, smartphones and the internet, I've realized this also applies to the wide audience that can very quickly become a part of what we think may be private moments. The wrong choice that is aided by even slight impairment has much greater potential for damage. Because I don't want to risk this, I choose not to drink. This risk is considerably different than it was during the time of Jesus.
I absolutely love the life I have without it. There have been many high and lows through the years, and alcohol would not have made the highs more exhilarating. It could easily have made the lows even lower.
The propensity toward addiction is higher in today's culture. We have so many choices and options in front of us that life often become over-filled. Our minds and spirits become numbed by the pace and that leads us to many addictive behaviors to numb the wounds. Mother Teresa described the United States as a place of great spiritual poverty. While there is some evidence of a genetic predisposition toward alcoholism, I don't think it is just that. Looking back at some of the dark periods I've had over the last twenty years, I think it would have been easy to use alcohol to mask the pain if I had already included it in my life. I instead was able to hear the work of the Holy Spirit speaking into me and into the lives of my family and friends. Not only is it my possible addiction I am concerned about, but that of others around me.
I stand with those who have experienced the harm of alcoholism. Around the time I made this choice, I worked at a psychiatric hospital and saw first-hand the pain that many experienced. As a pastor, I've heard the secret pain of many people in their own struggle with alcohol or in someone else's struggle. The damage is deep and widespread. The abandonment of families and responsibilities creates a cost that others have to repay for many years.
I stand with youth and young adults for whom it is illegal and unwise to drink. Legal issues aside, the way sex and alcohol are combined in high school and college settings create effects that carry even greater risks. As a youth pastor and as a parent, I like being able to simply say, "I choose not to drink, it's been better this way. You don't need to either"
It doesn't make sense with the way I usually celebrate. As my friend and co-worker Linda Miller told me, alcohol used to mask pain is being used for the wrong reason. It is unhealthy to use it to escape, to relax, and to avoid responsibility. The alternative to these negative reasons is to use it to celebrate. And I find I enjoy my celebrations even more when I am fully present for them.
There are people I know and love that choose to drink. I understand and respect many of those people. So don't be afraid to have that conversation with me if you are at a different place. And if you are in a place of struggle, please talk to someone about it and get help. I'd love to talk to you. You don't have to walk this journey alone.
In the end, I am not more or less righteous because of the choice I make with this. Clearly, Jesus, drank alcohol in his time. But I've made my choice because I simply want to remain focused on the One Thing: "Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ." Philippians 3:8,9 (NLT)
-John M Troyer