The Background (or, The Build-up)
2005. Attending a small, Christian university in southern Arkansas as a Biblical Studies major. I'd been a believer since 9th grade. I didn't have many friends that didn't act and believe as I did; we even called our campus "the Bubble." But I did have one friend, an international student, that was outside most of my normal circles and was always full of interesting conversation.
In one such interesting conversation, we started debating the use of recreational drugs. As zealous as I was, I couldn't seem to convince him (or myself) with any of my arguments. His point was that many Christians were hypocritical in their judgement about things and that, while we label some sins as "the worst", we allow others into our lives without hesitation.
"You have to respect the authorities. It's against the law," I said. So is speeding and downloading mp3s, he said. (I cringed.)
"Your body is a temple! It's bad for your body." So is laziness or overeating.
"You're supposed to resist temptation. It's addicting." So is caffeine, or sugar, or X-Box.
I walked away frustrated with myself for not having a black-and-white answer for something that seemed like a black-and-white issue. Even more so, frustrated with our tendency as Christians to comfort ourselves with certain standards of morality and abstinence rather than focusing on the ugly heart of our every day sins.
After a summer in Houston with a new friend that loved to
irritate me challenge my traditions with similar conversations, I started feeling like I was stuck in the Bubble. I knew scriptures, but I only understood them at the most basic of levels. I could debate well, but I was nervous to really confront the areas in which my belief system was incongruent. I loved God sincerely, but I didn't know how to communicate that with a world that looks and talks and thinks differently than I do.
I was thinking with a Bubble mindset and speaking in Bubble language. And whats the nature of bubbles?
They are hollow, they are insubstantial, and they are easy to pop. I was frustrated.
The Decision (or, The Bad Decision)
Driving with a Christian friend one evening, I vented all of this to her.
"When it comes to stuff like this, I feel like I just don't really know what I'm talking about. I only know what I've been told. Part of me wants to just do it, just get high or something, so that I can have an intelligent conversation about it."
It was a stupid thing to say. Like, really stupid and immature. And my dear, wise friend, in the most crazy and unexpected of responses, said, "Well. Maybe we should do it."
So later that evening, two of the most zealous, self-professed Jesus Freaks got high. I'll spare you the ridiculous details, but I will say it was probably one of the most well-planned and responsibly-conducted experiment with recreational drugs that has ever taken place.
The Experiment (or, Playing with Fire)
It didn't take long for things to take a turn for the worse.
While I realize that some readers might have had a different personal experience with something like this, a much less-terrible experience, I believe that God gave me discipline and grace through the way that things played out for me. I had to audacity to conduct such a "spiritual experiment," and so an intense, spiritual experience is what I got.
The first frustrating side-effect that I noticed was my inability to think or speak a complete, intelligent thought. I'd try to express myself, but kept failing and feeling embarrassed to be so affected. I'll be honest, we laughed at each other at first, but I also didn't like the change I could see in my friend, so I quit trying to make conversation. I kept silent in the back seat of the car and watched the streetlights pass.
I had a song stuck in my head, but I couldn't shake it. I couldn't think anything else but the words to a cheesy Christian song that I didn't even like.
I listened to my friend talk to our "chaperone" who was driving us around until things wore off. She giggled, she was loud, she talked about things she wouldn't usually talk about. I started to feel angry about being in the back seat, alone. I felt venomous and rude thoughts swirling around inside me about her behavior. I tried to combat them with loving thoughts: this is my friend, I love her, she isn't herself right now. But they slipped through my fingers and disappeared while the other thoughts, the thoughts that we usually take captive and reject, those thoughts began to consume me.
I wanted to gently ask if we could talk about something all together, but the words came out harsh and she was offended. I tried again with so much effort to control my emotions and communicate well, but the ugly things that felt like they were boiling up into my throat- those things spilled out of my mouth instead.
"I think that the stuff you really feel must come out when you're high," she tried to whisper to our driver, but I heard because, of course, she wasn't really whispering.
"Oh so is this what you're really like?" I laughed cruelly, and then fell back into the seat, in shock with myself.
I felt hateful; I was on the verge of tears.
Where is your self-control? I thundered to my heart. Why am I letting all this crap that I don't even want to feel have so much power over me?
I suddenly realized a horrible truth; I saw a horrible image in my mind. I imagined God's hand being lifted from me, leaving me totally vulnerable and exposed, and a lion waiting to devour me.
Analysis (or, Oh, Crap! What Have I Done?)
We rode in silence. I hated that I was the one who "couldn't handle it." I just wanted to be done and back to normal so that I could think a complete thought without being interrupted by stupid, selfish impulses or the chorus of that cheesy Christian song. I felt like I was in a mental dungeon. I was in torment.
I tried to pray. I couldn't, really. I could only pray about five words before I'd realize that I had been repeating them in my brain like a broken record. I settled for just repeating God's name, for whispering "Holy Spirit," and for singing that chorus: "I cannot do it on my own. I need you. I need you. I need you."
We finally had to go sleep on our friend's couch instead of going home, which terrified me. Hours had passed; It wasn't supposed to last that long. I actually started worrying that I'd never be the same again. Maybe God was going to punish me and remove the Holy Spirit forever. Maybe I'd have to live this way, with the devil constantly devouring me and no power to resist his attacks.
The Bible says that he waits like that, like a hungry lion, stalking us and waiting for an opportunity to attack and devour us. And I had handed him my heart and mind on a silver platter.
I tried to carry on a conversation with my friend, which was a little easier, but still ridiculous and unfruitful.
I closed my eyes and desperately hoped that when I woke up, I'd be free again. Free and back to normal. I fell asleep listening to my friend breathe and wondering why in the world there were bats flying back and forth across the ceiling.
Conclusions (or, God Works All Things for Good)
I woke up the next morning to sunlight and the sound of two cats chasing each other across the carpet. (What do you know? It wasn't actually bats.) My friend woke up and I told her everything I remembered from the night before, she hardly remembered anything and was surprised how clear the details were for me.
I went straight home and told my parents everything. They were shocked, to say the least, and I'm sure my staunch vows about "never touching the stuff again" were almost funny to them.
I went to my high school bedroom and collapsed onto my bed. I thought about what the high-school-me would think about what the college-me did. Oh, how preciously sweet it was to think clearly about anything!
I scrambled for my Bible. I could not only think, I could read! Thank the Lord! I can read! I read the beautiful, flowing poetry of Psalms and let the articulate, eloquent prayers wash over me. The depth of thought and feeling expressed there were satisfying on an entirely new level.
I searched for the verse about the devil being like a lion and found it in 1 Peter 5. I read:Be sober-minded and alert, for your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, waiting for someone to devour.
Sober-minded. I read it aloud, "Sober-minded." It felt delicious on my lips. Sober.
I started thinking of other beautiful words.
Alert. Aware. Coherent. Sound. Stable. Clear. Pure. I loved them all.
I had been preaching sobriety as a commandment (that was the Bubble talking) when I should have been preaching sobriety as a gift. A precious gift from a Father who desires to see us healthy, free, and whole. That's the opposite of devoured, you know... whole.
I wanted to know for myself what it was like to trade my sobriety for intoxication. And that's what I got- something toxic. I swung those doors of my heart and mind wide open and practically welcomed the toxic to take up residence. I voluntarily surrendered my self-control and sobriety, and therefore opened myself up to be controlled.
For a Christian, this is obviously true. We believe there is an enemy that seeks to destroy; what we don't often understand is that our clear minds are a weapon against being controlled by him. A precious gift; a powerful sword. And it is a gift that allows us to relate to one another clearly, intelligently, and genuinely. It frees us to be aware of opportunities and that still, small voice of the Spirit in our lives.
I do not actually abstain from things like coffee or wine or other things that can be just as sinful as drugs if we allow ourselves to be mastered by them. But I do guard my sobriety like the gift that it is. I want it. I passionately want it for myself. I do not want to surrender my self-control or stable mind ever again.
And to be clear, I don't encourage such "experiments." I do not think I needed to get high to learn this lesson, but God is good and patient and kind and, I hope, good-humored. Just like a good Dad, he lets us go our own way sometimes. He lets us learn the hard way, if we insist. And then, when we come running back and cry, "Oh crap! What have I done?!", he picks up the pieces and settles us back onto solid ground.
Oh, thank God for stable-minds and solid ground.