Can I see your id?
I wasn’t buying the case of Corona for a party. Or stocking up for a big tailgating event before the game. Or even stashing it away for a girls’ weekend.
I was buying it for our community group from church — dinner at our house and Mexican was on the menu.
To fully understand the magnitude of all this, I need to take you on a journey. It’s called Born and Raised a Southern Baptist. I have distant memories of my dad drinking one beer a week when I was very little — always on Saturday night and always when he was grilling chicken. I’ve also seen him in pictures from work sales meetings next to tables covered in wine glasses and beer bottles. I guess drinking was marginally accepted in my family at one time, but that would have been long before my brother and I were old enough to understand what it was.
Then things changed. One of my dad’s brothers struggled with alcoholism and the disease took his family and his work and most of his money. My dad became a deacon — the chairman of the deacons, no less — at our church. And my grandmother, unbeknownst to me, flat out asked my dad not to drink alcohol — at all. By the time I gave my life to Christ at the sweet age of thirteen, drinking in the Wedgeworth home was as if it had never happened.
As a brand new Christian, I was convinced that consuming alcohol was the worst thing I could ever do. I’ll cause them to stumble. I’ll become an alcoholic if I take one drink. I’ll ruin my witness. They won’t be able to tell that I love Jesus. For whatever reason the call to abstain from alcohol resonated more deeply within my soul than the call to abstain from other things. Not drinking was the holiness stamp and it solidified my place in the group of good, Christian kids. It was my joy, my privilege, to abstain. As a side note, I was living a double standard in many ways — so concerned about my status in this area, but negligent of how my choices in other areas (Mistakes) might affect my “status”. In many Christian cultures, abstaining from alcohol is the flagship of right living.
I knew alcohol was prevalent in high school but I stayed far away from it. My dad had been faithful to the promise he made to abstain from drinking, and my mother, for all I knew, had never even tasted alcohol. I remember having one drink in college and that was at a bar one night with my one and only Catholic friend. I ordered a strawberry daiquiri and when the faintest buzz hit me, I thought I was pretty much the most dangerous, wild thing to ever walk the planet.
My husband and I drank a few times in the beginning of our marriage but only for celebrations and never in public. I remember how scandalous it seemed to buy alcohol at the store — I made my husband go by himself because I was so afraid someone I knew would see me. We appeared to be non-drinkers (and really, we were…) and we attracted non-drinking friends (or at least people who appeared to be so). The deeper we got into church ministry and the more established and respected we felt as a couple, and eventually as a family, the less freedom we felt to even think about enjoying a glass of wine with our friends (who didn’t drink wine in the first place). We wanted to belong in the group of good, Christian families and were quite content with being tee-teetotalers.
But when we moved three years ago, God divinely placed us in the middle of a group of people with a completely different mindset toward alcohol. We still have a solidly Christian group of friends, but not necessarily a non-drinking group of friends. Alcohol is as expected and accepted at parties and dinners and with the Mexican meal at community group as is soda or lemonade or sweet tea or coffee. Some people drink, some people don’t. Some people drink every time, some people drink some of the time. And the beautiful thing is that never feels like a very big deal. The focus isn’t on the alcohol itself. To be honest, I’d be more self-conscious about drinking a diet soda with my friends than I would be about drinking a beer.
But this brings up the obvious question. How does a relaxed approach to alcohol affect the children living in my home? If these boys see both their mom and dad drink, doesn’t this teach them that drinking is ok?
Yes. That’s exactly what this teaches them. The rhetoric that repelled me from alcohol had the opposite effect on my brother. Alcohol was forbidden and mysterious and fun — three things that are irresistible to teenage boys. All his friends, churched and otherwise, were drinking. Our parents were in denial about it, and their silence communicated consent. His drinking affected his grades, his relationship with our parents, and was the driving force behind him being asked on several occasions to find another place to live.
Same upbringing. Two totally different responses with equally damaging results. I might not have memories of waking up in strange house after a night of binge drinking, but years of living in prideful legalism isn’t exactly deserving of a gold star either.
I don’t know what response our boys will have to alcohol. It’s easy for me to look in the rearview mirror and say that my parents’ approach was the wrong approach, both for my brother and for me. But how do I know if the approach we’re taking of trying to remove the mystery and intrigue of drinking will result in wise, responsible, careful men who can enjoy and not abuse alcohol? That’s the million-dollar question.
I asked for my brother’s opinion on this. “What could mom and dad have done to save you from some of the mess you got yourself into when you were a teenager? Or were you bent on defying them no matter what when it came to alcohol? You were going to drink regardless of what they did or said?”
“Oh, there was a lot they could have done. They were so adamant about not drinking — they put alcohol up on this pedestal as the most forbidden thing. It was not only kind-of wrong…you were going to hell if you drank. I wish dad had not been so closed off on the topic. I wish he would have talked to me about it. I wish my first beer would have been with him and that it hadn’t been something to lie about and hide. It was so mysterious and that’s what made it so appealing. If they had taken the mystery out of it, I probably would not have ever thought it was a very big deal.”
This coming from a guy who outran the cops one night on a motorcycle while wearing only a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. No shoes. No helmet. He woke up the next morning and would have had no memory of the previous night’s shenanigans had it not been for his colossal hangover.
If we choose to dismiss something in life our children will at one point or another have to face, we forfeit our opportunity to teach them how to do it the right way. We miss our chance to show them how to say, “Maybe I can have this…but one is enough. One beer. One drink. Not ten.” If alcohol is tagged with a moral/immoral tag, then it becomes all or nothing. You’re part of the good, Christian crowd if you don’t drink; you’re a bad person if you do.
Moderating alcohol intake is not much different than moderating anything else we eat or drink or do. What if I woke up in the morning and had cheese puffs for breakfast and decided to eat cheese puffs all day long? Or what about binge watching Netflix? What makes sitting on the couch and watching a show for six hours any different than drinking four glasses of wine? Sleeping is healthy, but sleeping all day isn’t wise. Playing a video game is fine, but playing all day might signal laziness. Exercising is helpful, but too much can become an obsession. Working is necessary, but without boundaries you can become a workaholic. Life itself is a constant juggle of judgement calls on moderation — it’s just that some things are more acceptable when they’re overdone than others.
And to the argument that alcohol is more destructive than cheese puffs and television and sleep and exercise…I agree! All the more reason my children need to see responsible adults making responsible choices. Ignoring it won’t make it disappear, it just takes away our chance to show them how to do it well. And a clear distinction we are quick to make is that underage drinking is always wrong. It doesn’t matter how well they are at self-regulating…drinking before age 21 is illegal, and drinking and driving is never acceptable. Carefully explaining the law is another way we can help them fully understand what it means to drink responsibly. It all goes back to communication. Are we talking to them about these issues or are we pushing them aside as if they don’t exist?
What if drinking alcohol was more a matter of preference rather than a choice of good over bad? It’s a major shift in thinking from where I started, but it feels like a realistic, level-headed approach that might help our boys have a healthier view of drinking than either my brother or I had. I choose to drink sometimes, but sometimes, I make a different choice. And I’m not choosing between being a good Christian girl or enjoying a cheat day from my self-imposed moral standards…I’m just choosing whether or not I feel like drinking at that particular time. I wouldn’t put watching Netflix or eating cheese puffs or sleeping in a morality category — why do we do this with alcohol? The rules of moderation apply throughout the scope of life and it’s my job to teach them to my boys.
I asked Wilson what he thinks about alcohol. “I don’t know. I might drink, but only if I like the way it tastes. I don’t want to drink anything nasty. What do you like, mom?”
Engaging in conversations like these will help our boys not make more of alcohol than what should be made of it. I am committed to help our boys avoid legalism and religious self-pride. I am committed to not communicating consent through my silence on issues. I am committed to model self-regulation and personal preference in all areas of life. I am committed to giving them a lifetime of opportunities to watch me make the best possible choices I can make.
I am aware that our choices have consequences — always. One or more of our boys may struggle with alcohol down the road. If a person has a bent toward addiction, it will find an outlet. It might be alcohol, but it might be something else. Our goal is to keep the lines of communication open and offer a free exchange of information where we can be honest with our children and they can be honest with us. Doing that, while exhibiting grace, wisdom, truth, love, humility, and forgiveness, throughout the spectrum of life, is how we best can be Christ’s ambassadors to them and to others.
“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness.” 1 Peter 2:5-6
“If fate throws a knife at you, there are two ways of catching it — by the blade and by the handle.” — Oriental proverb