Pastor Jim Melvin
Are you wasting away in Margaritaville? Singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffet, known for his colorful Hawaian shirts, catchy lyrics and laid-back islands attitude could be nominated as the pandemic spokesperson. Many of his song titles like “Wasting Away in Margarittaville,” “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere,” “And Why don’t we get Drunk,” extol the use and abuse of alcohol.
Judging from celebrity posts on Facebook, and the posts of my friends, family, and coworkers, the covid-19 pandemic has us awash in alcohol as much as in virus particles. People working from home report happy hour starting earlier and lasting longer. I have a friend who runs a liquor store that offers drive-through pickup and he says that since March his sales have made every day seem like New Year’s Eve. Statistics show that alcohol sales have risen as much as 55% since the covid related lockdowns began.
As lighthearted as the attitudes toward pandemic drinking habits appear, there are some serious consequences to our changes in consumption lurking in the background. The following are some of the negative consequences that can logically be expected to result from the current uptick in drinking:
- A rise in general health problems including a suppressed immune response which increases the susceptibility to disease including covid 19.
- Weight gain which also negatively impacts overall health.
- An in increase in the incidence and severity of depression.
- Relationship problems, child neglect and spousal abuse are more common.
- Lowered inhibition and lack of judgement in social situations increase the likelihood of exposure to covid 19 infections.
Lest I be accused of being a party pooper or a wet blanket, let it be known that I generally counsel moderation in all things. Even the Bible says in 1 Timothy 5:23, “No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” In balance, however, Ephesians 5:18 says, “Do not be a drunkard, for that is debauchery.” Medical science seems to support the biblical advice. It has been shown that one drink per day may have some health benefits including reducing heart disease. More conclusively, anything more than moderate consumption leads to all kinds of serious afflictions including cancer, multiple organ failure and heart disease.
Alcohol usage goes up during times of stress. An increase of alcohol abuse was observed after the 9/11 terror attacks. The isolation caused by the pandemic and the resulting lack of positive social connections makes us extremely vulnerable. Working at home increases the temptation to drink during the workday. So here are some practical suggestions of steps that you can take to maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle in “Coronaville.”
- Honestly evaluate your drinking habits. Widely accepted health guidelines recommend no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. A drink is defined as 1 twelve oz. regular beer, 1 five oz. glass of wine, or 1.5 oz. 80 proof distilled spirits. These amounts are to be consumed over the course of the week and not saved for a weekend binge. Overall, 0 drinks per day is best.
- Strictly limit the duration of your cocktail hour if you have one. One hour seems to be an appropriate length of time for most people.
- Be extra aware of your drinking on weekends, holidays, and vacations.
- Do not drink during the workday.
- Substitute non-alcoholic drinks or drinks with lower alcohol content for cocktail hour or engage in some other kind of activity or social interaction. It may work for you to serve alcohol only at dinner time.
- Couples and family members should positively and respectfully support one another in limiting alcohol consumption.
- Talk openly with social acquaintances about your decision to responsibly consume alcohol.
- Seek professional help if you or a loved one is being negatively impacted by their drinking.
- Avoid bars and parties where alcohol will be consumed in excess. These situations are the main source of covid spread at this time. It is your right to politely decline invitations to social events that you feel would put you at risk.
- Pray for strength and serenity.
It’s five o’clock somewhere right now. If I wanted to, I could find a good reason to pop a beer or pour myself a drink. I choose not to. I know that, like you, I am operating under a higher than normal level of stress. As much as this pandemic time stinks and tries to drive us to drink, we can create our own silver linings by committing to staying healthy in body, mind and spirit. Today, for me, five o’clock sounds like a good time to go for a walk. What are you going to do? Let’s just not waste away in Margaritaville.
Pastor Jim Melvin
Although I saw a few Christmas trees going up before Halloween, for me the holiday season begins with Thanksgiving. That’s when the joyful expectations start ramping up. We begin to look forward to holiday parties and gatherings. We prepare for travel or welcoming visitors into our homes and seeing people who have been absent from our lives for a while. We ponder the gifts that we will give and receive.
In my experience, the joyful expectations are equaled or exceeded by the dread of the chaos and stress that we are about to subject ourselves too. We wonder where we will find the time to pack more into our busy lives. We may be forced into spending time with people who we would just as soon avoid. Not to mention, how are we going to handle all of the extra expenses that come with the celebrating?
Here’s my laundry list of suggestions to help us not only survive but thrive through Thanksgiving and the holiday season.
1) Put the phones away. Holiday gatherings are a time to enjoy each other in real time. Consider having everyone deposit their phone in a basket – at least during dinner. The fact that this radical action seems nigh on to impossible is a sign of how addicted we are to our little screens. At the very least, have everybody silence their phones and keep them out of sight. Maybe come up with a catchy silence your phones announcement at the dinner table like they do in theaters or on the airplane. Good luck!
2) Everybody pitch in. I can remember waking up on Thanksgiving morning back in the good old days to the first smells of the turkey beginning to bake. My mom and aunts would slave in the kitchen all morning, serve everybody seated at the table while they seldom sat down, and wash the dishes and clean up while the menfolk retired to the living room to talk about important stuff and the kids played games. Maybe there were some things that weren’t so good about those old days. Make sure that you do your share and encourage everybody else to do the same including the kids.
3) “Be thee not a drunkard…but take thee a little wine for thy stomach.” (Ephesians 5:18 & 1Timothy 5:23) Wine and other spirits play a central role for many of us at holiday celebrations and dinners. Holiday toasts and good cheer contribute to the joyful atmosphere. But alcohol use also contributes to many domestic disputes and violence at holiday events. The abundance of alcoholic drinks at our gatherings is a particular hazard for those struggling with addiction. The Bible counsels moderation. Simple steps like not starting to drink too early, providing alternative beverages, and offering designated drivers for those who overindulge can help keep our celebrations happy and safe. Consider an alcohol-free Thanksgiving this year.
4) Don’t talk about religion and politics. It is no secret that we live in divisive times. Differences in political and religious points of view can create serious divisions within families and among even the best of friends. While it’s important that we engage each other in honest and open conversation about important issues, holiday gatherings, particularly around the dinner table, might not be the best time for political and moral debates. Our emotions are already amplified this time of year. Focus instead on positive and personal topics that will unite rather than divide. When somebody presses our buttons it’s okay to back away from arguments with words like, “Let’s get together and talk about that later.”
5) Honor the empty chair. Many of us will have experienced the death of a family member or loved since we last gathered. The void opened up by their absence can cast a pall over the celebration. Loss and grief are inevitable and are best dealt with openly. Acknowledge the loss and provide an opportunity for everyone to deal with their feelings. Tell stories and show pictures, shed some tears, and name your lost saints in prayer. Most of all, give thanks for what they meant in your life.
6) Give thanks. Speaking of giving thanks, especially at Thanksgiving, take some time to name the things that you are grateful for. Some families go around the table or the room before they eat and have everyone speak aloud one thing that they are thankful for from the previous year.
7) Say a little prayer. Whether or not you’re religious, physically connecting by holding hands around the table for a prayer provides a spiritual connection that can put the HOLY in HOLI-day. The prayer can be as simple and inclusive as “We give thanks for our family and friends who are gathered here and for how we bless each other’s lives. We thank you for the food we are about to receive and for the loving hands who have prepared it and serve us. Amen.” If nobody feels comfortable praying off the cuff, write it down and read it.
8) Take a hike. Does the following sound familiar? You eat too much, you drink too much, and then you fall into a coma in front of the T.V. The next morning you feel groggy and guilty. Adding a little exercise to the holiday menu can help. After dinner, before you wash that stack of dishes and greasy pans, have everyone put on their coats and walking shoes and take a stroll around the neighborhood. Walking is not only healthy for the body; it is a stimulant for conversation. It will make everybody feel better.
9) Lower your expectations. We want our holiday gatherings to be perfect. They never are. Not everybody will show up on time. Not everyone will be on their best behavior. Somebody’s favorite dish will be missing or cooked wrong. All your problems won’t magically go away. Start out by thinking of the holiday as just another day. Then all of the good special stuff will be, as we say, gravy.
10) Invite the lonely and less fortunate. Your holiday may be almost perfect. That’s not true for everyone. Be on the lookout for the lonely and the less fortunate around you. Invite them to dinner and lavish your hospitality upon them. In blessing them, your whole family will be blessed. Or, forego your own dinner and volunteer as a family to serve in a community meal.
And most importantly, don’t burn your turkey!!!
Pastor Jim Melvin
Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” Matthew 6:25-27
I had a hard time falling asleep the other night. My Fitbit, which tracks my sleep, confirmed that the quality and duration of my sleep was far less than it should have been. I drug my butt around the whole next day and didn’t accomplish much.
What was keeping me awake? My truck’s brakes had been feeling squishy and so I took it in to the dealer before I rear-ended somebody. I didn’t get much comfort from the slogan of the brake technician in the second-rate garage in a recent AT&T commercial, “If the brakes don’t stop it, something will.” I was expecting a call from the mechanic in the morning. In the meantime, I tossed and turned worrying about how much the repair would cost me.
As it turned out, it was pretty much a worst-case scenario. I needed a new master cylinder. Ouch! $688.53 later I’m confident that my brakes will stop me before I hit the driver in front of me. (Please don’t tell me if you think I got ripped off.) Here’s my point. That master cylinder replacement would have cost me $688.53 whether or not I tossed and turned all night. As Bobby McFerrin sang, “In every life we have some trouble, but when you worry you make it double. Don’t worry. Be happy.” $688.53 is a lot of money to have to shell out; but it wasn’t the end of the world.
Bobby McFerrin got a lot of grief for his song. It’s naïve and simplistic some people said. And in some ways, it is. There are times in life when worry is inevitable and warranted. Some really bad things happen. Much of the time, however, our worry is unnecessary. We are always better off if we can at least manage our worry, because unrestrained worry robs us of the ability to deal fully with the problems we face.
I take the words of “Don’t Worry Be Happy” seriously because Jesus said the same thing. Jesus fortified this teaching with the promise that God will care for us and provides for us no matter how bad things get. Even when we face death, he offers us eternal life. Faith provided him with that assurance, an assurance that he shared with us. Faith is a great cure for fretful insomnia in the face of the greatest challenges of life.
When our faith is shaky, there is one little technique for short-circuiting worry that helps sometimes (even though I failed to use it during my recent brake incident). In my experience, worry, particularly in the middle of the night, takes the form of a recording playing over and over in my head. When you hear that recording start to repeat, press your mental PAUSE button. If it starts up again, hit the PAUSE again. You can choose to shut it down. The more you practice; the more effective you will get. The more effect you get, the less sleep you will lose.
That’s the first step; choose not to worry. Then, be happy. How do you do that? You may find your own path to happy, but the next time I can’t sleep for worry, I think I’ll hum Bobby McFerrin’s song. “Doo doo doo doo doo doo. Don’t worry. Be happy.” With that little ditty in my head I will either go to sleep or go nuts. Don’t worry. Be happy. I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, I pray that your worries are little ones and that God sees you through the big ones.
Push Your Own Pause Button
By Pastor Jim Melvin
But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62
Jesus said, “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Matthew 6:25-27
How much of your time do you spend worrying about the future? How much of your time do you spend regretting the past? If you are like most people, probably a lot. At night you lie in bed fuming about your co-worker who didn’t show up for work and left you with an impossible task to struggle with on your own. Then your mind jumps to tomorrow as you worry about whether your boss will get on your case for falling behind. You wake up the next morning worn out from fretting and stewing rather than sleeping.
There is a way out of this frustrating trap. It begins with the realization that nothing ever happened in the past; it happened in the NOW. Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will happen in the NOW. The past and the future only exist in your mind. And since they exist only in your mind, you have power over them and how you react to them. Controlling your regrets and worries instead of letting them control you is not easy; it takes work. But with practice you can do it.
First, push the pause button in your mind. (See my previous article “A Simple Guide to Meditation” to put yourself in the present moment.) Think about what is happening to you in the current moment. Right now, for example, I’m sitting in a comfortable chair in a pleasant, air-conditioned room. I just had a bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee for breakfast and I’m pretty much free from aches and pains. A good day for a man my age. I could dredge up an unpleasant phone conversation I had yesterday, or I could worry about an unpleasant medical procedure scheduled for tomorrow. OR, I can choose to take a moment to enjoy the NOW.
I’m back. I just pressed my pause button and sat quietly for a minute and now I can continue writing, relaxed and refreshed.
I said that you are in control of the regrets of the past and worries about the future because they exist only in the mind. But how? Let my point out some biblical tools to help. The early church which was formed just after Jesus died, was full of people who were not so nice to one another. The Apostle Paul who had founded some of these churches, gave them some practical advice. He said, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:31-32 Paul’s tool for dealing with the hurts of the past was forgiveness. He was echoing Jesus constant message of the power of forgiveness.
In dealing with some of those regrets about the past that arise in the middle of the night, it may not involve only forgiving others. Sometimes you will have to forgive yourself. You may be harder on yourself than you are on others. Forgive yourself as Christ forgives you. He accepts you just the way you are. You can too.
And about the worries for the future, Jesus reminds us that nothing we can do can add a single hour to our lives. Acceptance of that fact is another powerful tool of the NOW. Focus on what you CAN do. Worrying of the middle of the night will do no good. Clear your mind. Rest in the now. Then tomorrow, in the moment, you will be better equipped to plan and act to meet the challenges of a new day, a new NOW.
The danger of obsessing on the failures of the past or threats of the future is that they crowd out the power of NOW. Press the pause button. Spend more time in this moment. NOW is where it’s at.