"Oh Lord, make me good, but not yet”
That Saint Augustine knew what he was talking about when he uttered the immortal prayer above.
Coming to Christianity at twenty six, I had over a quarter of a century of bad habits to overthrow (specifically, for the purposes of this post, drinking too much) and I’m convinced (but biased) in thinking it’s harder to change yourself as an adult than to have avoided our culture’s norms for the young in the first place. And they are norms – for mainstream culture now celebrates excess and hedonism.
As a newbie Christian I was lucky enough to have sensible and compassionate people around me, who, when I first realised I believed and started freaking out about ‘having to give up my whole lifestyle now’, advised me to concentrate on getting to know Jesus, and in time the rest would fall into place.
Turns out I’m a bit of a slow learner.
Christians logically know that God does not want us to get drunk (not because he’s a party pooper and hates fun, but because it leads to debauched mistakes, wasted money and disco bruises). The problem is that those born and raised Christians who stuck to this rule always seemed, to me, to be a bit holier than thou, constantly wearing their Judgement Pants, which based on their facial expressions must be overly tight and give you wedgies.
As much as I think I’ve outgrown this habit, and wised up to its destructive consequences – harming my body, making me do stupid things and quenching the Holy Spirit – I still occasionally slip up.
And here’s the truth (in a whisper) . . . sometimes I still want to slip up.
My view pre-Christianity was that one of the great joys of life was getting together with a bunch of amiable people in a pub type environment, and getting merrily sloshed.
And it’s not so easy to override that, because the reality is that sometimes it IS fun. Nothing gets the conversation flowing and overcomes self consciousness in a group like getting a round in, then one more, then ‘just one more’. Having a sensible one or two really isn’t the same - the fun comes in pushing the boat out just that bit too far, commiserating over hangovers the next day and laughing over the stupid stuff you got up to the night before.
And I have done some pretty stupid stuff – fallen off tables I’ve been dancing on, gotten lost, cried in public, been in arguments with taxi drivers and policemen (and one police-woman), eaten more dodgy fried chicken than I’d care to remember, and embarked on some short term flings and longer unsuitable relationships that have no doubt left me emotionally damaged.
I recently moved into a new flat, sharing with three lifelong Christian girls. I’d only ever lived with non-Christians before, and even though I’d tried to take my faith seriously and never planned on deliberately going coco-loco on the vino, I liked the freedom of knowing that, should that ever accidentally happen, my Christian cover wouldn’t be blown by my housemates.
I didn’t relish the idea of sinning against God but, in the grand scheme of things, drinking too much didn’t seem like such a biggie, and I knew God would forgive me. This grace thing is handy, huh?
By the time I chose to live with Christians I felt like I didn’t want this fractured lifestyle even occasionally – I wanted to be living the way God wanted each and every day. But I was still worried that I might find the atmosphere too suffocating, and one day I’d flip, go out on the lash and come home plastered, a mammoth bottle of vodka in one hand and a man called ‘Genghis’ in the other, and my Christian cover would be gone forever.
As it turns out, I’ve found the lovely Christian girls I live with to have more grace for people and more fun in their little fingers than most people I’ve ever lived with previously had combined. I love the regular cups of tea and settling down to watch ‘Gilmore Girls’ (a TV show so relentlessly girly that I’m convinced if a man watched it he’d start menstruating). I LOVE living with people that I can get together and pray with. And they mix a mean cocktail too.
Turns out that the person wearing big fat judgemental pants was me.
In such an atmosphere of freedom and grace, I find that, actually, I’m not such a drinker these days. And there you have God’s approach in a nutshell – change never comes from Him belittling you or making you feel like a failure, it comes from a place of complete love and acceptance.
Ironically, it’s not fear of condemnation, or the goal of living a sin free existence, that has caused this bad habit to tail off and die. It’s a desire to live in the best God has for me, and the knowledge that what God has for me is WAY better than anything I’d thought up for myself.
I want to get the most out of each day, serve God the best I can, and use my skills and passions to the best of my ability. I don’t want to waste the short time that I have, miss out on God’s promptings, poison the body I’ve been given, or quench the Holy Spirit that I’m assured lives in me. I want to be the person that God created me to be.
Let’s celebrate! Champagne anyone??