Spiritual sobriety

A little over a year ago I wrote a post about getting hungry for God. One suggestion was to avoid “spiritual junk food” – filling up on activities that look to something other than God to fill a longing that only He can satisfy. I don’t know if I keep filling up on junk food, but I continue to have trouble even wanting to pray.

Today I read a sermon that uses a different metaphor. Lack of interest in spiritual things, John Piper suggests, is due to “the addictive, inebriating power of worldliness.” When you’re drunk, you’re not just filled with the wrong thing. Your judgment is impaired, so it’s hard to even recognize that you have a problem, let alone work on fixing it.

I’ve only been drunk once in my life. I was in grad school at Middlebury College, and one evening I had three glasses of wine to drink. The wine was free, and I was curious why people found it appealing to drink. I suppose I felt relaxed (though no more so than when reading a good book), but other than that I felt no effect except a bit of drowsiness – until I got up and tried to walk back to the dorm.

I don’t think I weaved so unsteadily that I drew anyone’s attention, but I’m sure I couldn’t have walked a straight line. I went back to my dorm and to bed, then got up to go to the bathroom and throw up. In the morning I felt fine, but for well over a year after that I felt slightly queasy just from the smell of wine.

One time was enough, though, both to keep me from ever drinking more than one serving of alcohol at a time (it’s not hard to refrain, as the only drink I like is a White Russian), and to give me an indelible mental picture of how alcohol affects one’s ability to function.

So the idea of being spiritually inebriated makes sense to me. When under the influence of the wrong ideas, attitudes, and desires, one’s perceptions are warped. It doesn’t even have to mean believing outright lies or doing obviously wrong things. A distorted view of reality skews things so that little things seem big and big things seem little, and the good gets in the way of the best. The things that come between me and God are usually perfectly good things, in themselves – they’re just getting in the way of what is more important.

Piper advises that the road to spiritual sobriety is similar to what is needed for a literal alcoholic – intervention by other people who care. Many churches today, including the one I attended until recently, encourage people to get involved in small groups. These people get to know you well enough that they know how you’re doing spiritually, and can say what needs to be said if your spiritual steps are starting to get unsteady.

I used to meet regularly with a woman on the staff at the church we attended, back in Pennsylvania. She was full of love and wisdom, and it seemed that whenever I talked to her, she helped me see things more clearly. It was as though I walked into her office seeing things as though in one of those funhouse mirrors that distort everything, and I walked out seeing clearly. I miss her because she is a good friend, but also because she helped me put things in perspective.

I try to imagine the things she might say, but it’s not the same. If I’m not seeing things clearly, I need direction from outside myself. I tell myself that it’s God I need to direct me, but if my perceptions are warped, how do I hear clearly?

I don’t even know what the particular toxic influences are that distort my perceptions. I just know that no matter how many times I resolve to pray regularly, I don’t, and it’s not just for lack of time. I find it somewhat of a relief that the (primary) writer of the blog Parchment and Pen admits that prayer is hard for him also. “It is hard to keep up with someone whose relationship techniques do not mirror anything we practice on earth.”

I noticed that it was in my “How to get hungry” post that I had resolved to get to bed by 10 PM. And I see by the clock that it is again far past that time. Lack of sleep certainly doesn’t help sobriety, so I’m off to bed.


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