Little Lessons over Coffee
When I was 24 years old, I got a wonderful job that included traveling all over the country hosting training seminars for pastors and church leaders. I loved that job. I loved flying, planning seminars, and negotiating contracts. I loved meeting church leaders. I loved being in charge of an event.
One thing I did not love about the job was the hours. I’m not a morning person. I don’t understand people who just roll out of bed with a big smile. Weirdos. I’ve tried all kinds of things to make myself more of a morning person but nothing works. When the alarm goes off, I always think there should be more time to sleep. Always.
So you can imagine my feelings when I discovered part of my wonderful job included being the first person at work in the morning. We fed the participant’s breakfast and it was my job to make sure the breakfast was ready to be served in the most time-efficient way to feed 200 people in 30 minutes.
I had to find a coping mechanism, so I decided to give coffee a try.
The only way I could drink the industrial strength hotel coffee was to lace it with lots of sugar and cream. I could be coherent after my first cup and effective after my second cup. I realized this coffee solution might work at home too. I bought a coffee pot and some fancy, flavored coffee. I was delighted to find that lacing fancy, flavored coffee with sugar and milk made it delicious. I quickly developed a habit.
Once it became a habit, I felt a little guilty about it. I don’t like to be addicted to anything, so it always kind of niggled at me every morning as I made it. I should stop this. It can’t be good for me. But I enjoyed the taste and the alertness it gave me. I didn’t stop drinking it, but my guilty feelings over it increased. I felt like it wasn’t good for me and I even felt like God wanted me to stop drinking it, but I didn’t listen. I have an over-active imagination at times and surely God didn’t actually care if I drank coffee. I told myself to stop being ridiculous.
I’ve always had a battle with something I shall here call “upset stomach.” I’ll spare you the details of “upset stomach,” but it was my constant companion from the age of 13. I could never pinpoint what caused this problem and decided it was just my cross to bear.
“Upset stomach” got worse in my late 20s. It caused me to pass out in the public restroom at work one afternoon. Then I read a book that had a description of my version of “upset stomach.” This book called my strange malady an anxiety attack. Anxiety? Me? I wasn’t trembling or fearful. I was strong and brave. But the symptoms were listed right there. I told my therapist about it the next day. She had me call my doctor and ask for a prescription for Xanax. She said to take half a pill when my stomach started getting upset and within 15 minutes it would be calm. Xanax, the wonder drug, put an end to “upset stomach” running my life. I used it sparingly and made 10 pills last for two years.
At the end of those two years I found myself in the middle of one of the most stressful times in my life. Things came to a head when I had a convergence of stressful situations in one afternoon. I found myself hyperventilating in the back of someone’s car and it got worse from there. The next day I asked for a refill on my prescription. This time the 10 pills lasted one year. I began to have anxiety over the anxiety pills.
When those pills ran out, I didn’t get my prescription refilled. I went the “library” (Barnes and Noble) and picked up every book I could find on anxiety disorders. I scanned the books, looking for natural ways to relieve anxiety. I read that people with anxiety should not consume stimulants. It makes the symptoms worse. NO MORE COFFEE? Hmmm… That can’t be right. I don’t really have anxiety anyway: just the symptoms. (I can be slightly hard-headed at times.)
I learned some valuable things about how to deal with anxiety from my research, notably that my insistence that I wasn’t afraid or anxious was causing anxiety to come out in very aggressive ways. As I learned to deal with anxiety in a healthier way, my stomach got better for a while. I was still drinking coffee though, and eventually it got worse again, then better, then worse, and eventually much worse. During another very stressful time in my life, I found myself sick constantly. I couldn’t keep anything down. While I thought this might be a great weight loss plan, it was interfering with my life so much that I finally gave in. I stopped drinking coffee. Amazingly, my stomach issues stopped completely. I couldn’t believe how good I felt.
After a few months, I missed my hot delicious morning drink, so I decided to try decaf. I was pleasantly surprised to find it tasted just as good. I thoroughly enjoy a morning cup of cinnamon vanilla nut decaf with 2 teaspoons of sugar and a splash of half-n-half. Pure heaven… Guilt free!
During this Lenten season, I’m fasting from desserts. Not sugar, just desserts. The first morning of my fast when I made my coffee, I felt that little niggling feeling as I reached for the sugar that I was not to use it. Ridiculous! This is the good stuff and I’m not using much! But the feeling was still there, so I decided to only use one teaspoon – a little compromise to appease The Voice… I’ve heard that same voice every time I’ve made coffee since then. I reach for the sugar and argue with The Voice that there’s no way I can enjoy coffee, DECAF coffee, without a little sweetener. Surely one teaspoon won’t hurt anything.
My fast was extremely successful the first week. I didn’t cheated one time. The second week it was mostly successful. The third week it was mostly, technically successful, but the old food challenges suddenly raised their ugly heads again. (So I’m fasting from cheese, but not hamburgers and fries!) I thought the food challenges were over for me, but apparently they’re not. Sigh…
This morning as I went to make my coffee and reached for the sugar, The Voice came into my hearing very insistently. “This little rebellion is why your problem with food is back. Do not put sugar in your coffee this morning. Trust Me. You will enjoy it without the sugar.”
Fine! I thought as I slammed the sugar container back on the shelf. I won’t put sugar in my coffee and I’ll hate it and stop drinking even decaf! Is that what You want?
“You will like it,” The Voice said.
I poured my plain, decaf coffee into the travel mug and walked out the door sullenly. I started driving to work and took my first sip of the coffee I was sure would curl my toes. It tasted very nondescript, almost like hot water. I took another sip. The same. By the time I got to work, the coffee I was drinking had come alive in my mouth. I tasted aspects of the flavor I’d never noticed before. It was delicious.
I tell this little story on myself not to freak you out that God wants you to stop drinking coffee or eating sugar. I have issues with anxiety that make it difficult to function properly with caffeine in my system. I have issues with food that make it necessary for me to fully submit to God in that area. We all have issues in some area of our lives. I tell this story to address the issue of obedience.
How often do we continue walking headlong into misery because something God wants us to do doesn’t make sense to us? My own pride has kept me in chains for too long. Even if it hadn’t been God’s voice asking me to stop drinking regular coffee, what would it have hurt for me to stop drinking it? Even if it hadn’t been God’s voice telling me to stop putting sugar in my coffee, what harm would it have done for me to taste something I didn’t like? Instead of just trusting it was God’s voice I was hearing, I stubbornly clung to my own “common sense”.
I believe my issues with food are gone now. I believe that after today I will no longer struggle to comfort myself with food, I will no longer feel like I deserve an indulgent snack because of stress in my life, I will no longer avoid feeling lonely or hurt or rejected because I’m stuffing it down with pizza and cheeseburgers and whatever else I can find. I will no longer have a split personality toward food – enjoying healthy, organic food one moment and running through the fast food drive thru for food made of grease and sugar with no dietary value the next.
It is a new day – not because I stopped putting sugar in my coffee today, but because I started being obedient in the smallest thing.