I’ve been thinking a lot lately about trying to stay sober.
And no, this isn’t a post about everyone refraining from drinking for the rest of their lives. In fact, I think I hold a relatively liberal view of drinking for being a Christian raised in Oklahoma – the big ol’ buckle of the “Bible belt” – but that’s a conversation we can have over coffee sometime… or a drink. Your choice.
Sober-mindedness is a foreign concept to our society. It’s a “go-big-or-go-home” world and if you don’t get lost in the pleasures of it, you’re doing it wrong. The Scriptures speak about not becoming drunk on wine and to be “sober-minded”. Now, of course, Paul was speaking literally and figuratively; literally because wine was the drink of the day but too much wine would create a nice little mind-lull, and figuratively because the Roman world was full of false teachers, idol worship, extravagant possessions, and lots of other things that could cause one to absently chase the treasures of Earth. We know the enemy is cunning in all contexts, but I would venture to say that we’ve got even more to stay sober-minded from in our day than was present in Paul’s time.
I think that we all have a different set of things – proverbial beverages of choice, if you will – that we should use in moderation to stay “sober-minded”, but there are a few that have swept our culture off her feet, thrown her on the back of a white steed, and lied to us by saying that we don’t have to think for ourselves any longer. Cue the sweet, siren-cry of social media.
As a child, when I would decide that I wanted to do something, it was looked upon as “driven” and “great initiative” if I let whatever it was consume my thoughts for days on end until I either got what I needed from the subject or got so good at it that I was the best. Music was that thing for me. As a 9-year-old, I started writing the verses and choruses of songs during 4th grade English. Then, during recess, I would gather my friends under the monkey bars and teach them the new song. (Not unlike my adult self… except now we meet inside of coffee bars.) Social media didn’t really exist then, so you could say it was basically the 90’s version of the Roman world. Only rich people were carrying around cell phones and AOL Instant Messenger existed, but you’d have to use your dial-up (which meant you couldn’t use your home phone) to “chat” with people… whatever that meant. It was a different time. But social media today is ruining us. (Even at this very moment, I am battling the urge to quit writing and just turn my brain off for an hour by scrolling through Instagram and creating graphics for my job… on my day off.)
As an adult, I’ve been trying to develop a brand for public speaking for myself. I love to speak for big groups and get them thinking differently than they had before about any topic I can get my brain wrapped around. I love to disappear into the builder’s side of my website and make it better each time I change a color or a font or even just one word. “That’s finally it,” I think to myself, knowing that there is no end to improvement.
But that’s the problem. Because somewhere in there, I find that same mind-numbing quality that sober-mindedness is not. “Everything in moderation,” I say, but then after I’ve closed Instagram, my mind automatically opens it back up. I could do it in my sleep. My muscle memory is so strong that I’m already back on the home screen scrolling again before I realize that I didn’t even remember opening it.
And this has happened to us all. What a scary place to be as a society.
Now, your drink of choice may not be social media. Maybe the bottle you choose is video games, or reading, or even Pinterest. None of these things are worse or better – only that as soon as they start to cause that blurring of your thoughts, we need to seriously consider if we’re stewarding our time while doing those things. Being sober-minded doesn’t mean to stop completely, but it does mean that you’ve got to set boundaries. Sometimes, it DOES mean that you need to quit, but sometimes, you just need to unplug.
Unplugging is very necessary in our culture today. To “unplug” from our world and not be reachable is essential for growth. But sometimes, when we unplug, we just replace it with something else that doesn’t give our brains time to rest. This is how we develop that sense of apathy or complacency for the world we live in. If you never slow down and notice the different types of people who are around you because your head is looking down at your phone, you’ll miss it. If you don’t see them, you won’t be able to love them well, because the media has told you that there are only specific types of people who are acceptable to love. When you don’t love them well, you miss the ultimate call of Christ which was to love your neighbor as yourself. And until this past week, I would have called myself a sensationalist – making much of little – but this was because of how numb I have become to the lack of sobriety in my life because of my media intake: my “head-down” approach to the world.
Why does any of this matter?
A.W. Tozer was quoted saying, “Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted.”
So, for every person who is confused about why their relationships are falling apart, but won’t stop using social media as the way that they “connect” —
For everyone who is watching the drama on television, hoping that they’ll find a way to deal with their own —
For everyone who is hiding behind party lines, tossing verbal hand grenades, but doesn’t understand why the other side won’t change —
For every person who wants to hear direction from God, but won’t put down the distractions and pick up the Scripture —
— do you see it? It’s all a ruse to keep you distracted from loving people face-to-face. From having actual encounters with each other. From living the life that you were truly supposed to have in a world that wants the opposite for you because coasting is way easier than digging your heals in and doing the hard work it takes to be human.
And while we’re fighting about government decisions behind screens across the country or hiding in our houses hoping the world passes us by while we find another good book to read, we should really start thinking about trying to stay sober.