True confession: I have been drunk exactly twice in my life. The first time was when I was 16, and my girlfriend and I just broke up. I drowned my sorrows by chugging a glass of whiskey. It had the desired effect…and then some. The hangover was severe enough that it was not an experience I wanted to repeat.
I didn't repeat it until I was 34. This time I was seeking even some tiny measure of peace. If just for a moment, I wanted to escape into oblivion, and let all my cares and concerns fade away. And it worked, too...at least until the next morning when I woke up.
I understood why a person will give up everything and lie face down in a gutter with nothing else in the world if only they can have another drink. The strength and intensity of that desire scared me so much that once again I knew this was an experience I couldn't afford to repeat—and, thank God, I haven’t.
Why do people drink? A number of reasons, I think. Like me, I think they want to be free from pain. In addition, they want to be free from anxiety. They want to be free from inhibition so they can be more social. They want to experience camaraderie.
Today’s passage commands us not to be drunk with wine, but to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Surely this command is rooted in what we allow to shape our behavior; will it be God or something else such as alcohol? But more than that, I think it is also a reflection on how we deal with our hurts, fears, and sense of isolation. It raises the question of where we find our joy, and perhaps if we are finding any joy in the first place.
To be filled with the Spirit is to be in a right relationship with God and one another. When such relationships are present in our lives, we have all the support we need to bear our grief and sorrows, all the security we need to cast off our anxieties, all the love we need to dispel our loneliness. We find the joy which can’t help but result in singing, making melodies, and giving thanks.
It comes as no surprise, then, that relationships are what the following verses address; relationships in the home, work relationships, our relationship with God. Rightly constituted, these are the things that produce a cheerful heart—a heart full of good cheer, not alcohol and the mere illusion of well being it produces.
So… where is there hurt in your life? Worry? Loneliness? How are you addressing it? Are the relationships in your life getting the time and attention they deserve? And perhaps most importantly: How are you doing in your relationship with the Lord?