For me, this year began with a personal commitment to buy no books until 2024. It came from an inner conviction that buying books had become an unhealthy habit that needed to be broken. Since then, each month, I’ve taken a break from something else, giving myself a chance to reset my daily habits in a healthier way.
I haven’t posted about these experiences for a while – since fasting from Audiobooks in February. In the following months, I’ve resumed my practice of listening to audiobooks, but lack the compulsion I once had. It fits nicely into my life when it can, but not in an overpowering way.
Next was coffee. This might sound difficult…impossible…pointless? But there were mornings when I wondered if it was the reason for my indigestion. There were afternoons when I’d have a second cup…followed by restless nights. Could a month without coffee function for me like a control group in a scientific experiment? Could life without coffee reveal an alternative way to live?
Michael Pollan writes highly informative non-fiction books in which he personally experiences what he writes about: gardening, home-building, eating, and drinking coffee. His short book, Caffeine explores not only the social history and biochemistry of coffee, but recounts his personal experience as a consumer and abstainer. It’s a fascinating read!
For me, it served as a learning experience: not just biological, but social. Aware of caffeine’s addictive properties, I eased myself off of it by first using up the black tea bags in my cupboard. They’d been there for ages, since we have coffee in the morning, and herbal tea in the evening. Eventually, I switched to decaf coffee – maintaining the morning ritual of a hot, bitter drink, but lacking the addictive stimulant. Sure, there were some morning headaches and drowsy afternoons for a bit, but the memory of those experiences fade much quicker than the lessons I learned.
It is amazing how frequently coffee is offered to you in social settings…and for free! As a pastor, I make a regular habit of visiting people, which is often referred to as “grabbing a coffee” or “going out for coffee.” Coffee seems to have acquired a sort of identity as a “consequence free” indulgence to do in one’s spare time. Having virtually no calories, binging it threatens no weight gain – it’s just addictive and potentially sleep-depriving. If one does not wish to drink coffee when going out, then a problem arises: “how do I justify my presence in this cafe?” Fortunately, most will make you a decaf Americano, though often with a raised eyebrow.
Even when meeting someone for a full meal, coffee is always offered. When ordering pizza, Coke or Pepsi come with it. Consuming caffeine no longer requires one’s intentional pursuit – it comes to you involuntarily, and requires only your passive acquiescence. In a way, coffee has become “the water we swim in” – something we can consume, and be affected by, without intending or even noticing.
And this serves as an illustration for other areas of our lives.
How many things do we eat and drink because they are simply there, offered to us at the table or in the grocery store aisle? How intentional are we about selecting ingredients and noticing their effects on us? Can we be honest about our dependencies that we’ve developed and their effects on our social behaviour?
Moreover, how many things that we think, say, and do are mere reflections of our surroundings?
While our initial worldview can be formed at a young age, it is also continually in-formed by the news and media that we ingest. Does our outlook on current events and attitude toward others follow the latest cultural current, or is it anchored to a deeper source of truth?
While the accent of our speech can reflect our region of residence or birth, so can our vocabulary, expressions, and manners reflect the company we keep. Do we speak identically to those around us, or do our words distinguish us in a way that provokes curiosity? Do we carry a bit of a “foreign accent” that causes people to listen a little more closely? (Colossians 4:2-6; 1 Peter 3:15; Acts 4:13)
While we may think of our actions as intentional, how many things do we do without thinking, or without a conscious decision? How are habits formed? How often do we reflect on what we do, and consider alternatives? Ultimately, who are we following, and becoming more like as time passes? What effect do our actions have on others? The Scriptures offer us an attractive option: to grow, as God’s children, to increasingly reflect Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18), and, living differently from the world, we shall point others to hope in God, as well (1 Peter 2:11-12). Living differently, with a purpose.
In his letter to the Romans, after reflecting on the wisdom and grace of God at work in history, Paul calls for this response in ch.12:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
This isn’t about legalism. This isn’t about asceticism, or abstaining from things to feel “holier than thou.” But rather, we are called to live reflectively, to live purposely. To let God be the One to shape our lives to serve His good purposes in this world. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:31,
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.