About 10 years ago, I could not drive past a Starbucks without stopping to buy a cup of coffee. At that point in my life, the number of children in my household was increased to four and the number of sleep deprived nights was compounding at a rate that any IRA would envy. But it wasn’t the tiredness and stress that led me into the store and the line, sometimes with all four children in tow, it was a kind of odd habit. I’m tempted to say it was an addiction but that would be incorrect. An addiction is a very specific term. We toss it around too often these days and to say I’m “addicted” to sugar or caffeine is to be casual with a struggle I’m fortunate to have avoided so far in my life. I have walked with people who suffer addictions. It’s not a casual topic.
No, this was a habit and it became a habit because of an idea. The idea I had was rooted in scarcity. I kept thinking as I drove near the Starbucks that 1)I needed something to bolster me through the day and 2)If I didn’t do it now I might not have another chance. At first, it was harmless, of course, and I joked about it. It’s only in retrospect that I can identify the deeper issue with that habit. The “scarcity” part of it all.
The pendulum swung in the other direction soon thereafter and I swore off coffee and sugar and all kinds of good and wonderful things. I moved into a place of deprivation, temporary and strict. I was sure that there was some chemical reason I felt so drawn to that green sign when I drove past.
Habits have quite a pull when we’ve built them well.
Both places were kind of awful, the indulgences drained my bank account and expanded my waistline and the deprivation drained my patience and expanded my meltdowns. The problem isn’t the coffee or the caffeine. It’s the attitude toward them.
I’m always thinking about the next fast– not the short one day or two-day fasts but the longer ones, the ones that make me really think about what I’m doing with myself where food is concerned. For me, fasting according to the tradition is an opportune time to take a look at how I’m viewing food and drink and putting it (God help me) into the right spot in my heart and head.
Because so often I’m likely to give it too much attention, whether it is me elevating that food or demonizing it. In either case, I give food and drink a power over me. Even in deprivation, I give the food power if I’m not careful.
I’m glad to report that I broke my Starbucks habit when we moved to Tennessee years ago and I found myself 30 minutes from the closest location. I wish I could say that I meant to break that habit, but it was simply a happy result of having Starbucks out of my line of sight. The habit was broken for me, in a way, because life’s circumstances changed.
I created new habits, some good, some not so great, but that struggle with scarcity, being afraid of missing out on something, feeling entitled and then feeling ashamed and depriving myself, gave me some important insights about eating and drinking and the role I should allow these things to play in my daily life.
And though it’s still a couple of months away, these insights come into clearer focus as I move toward the next long fast, the Nativity Fast at Advent. It’s on my mind today because of the timing, because I’m knee-deep on writing this chapter of Garden in the East, because it’s my birthday and I’m thinking about cake and donuts and maybe a nice mocha latte to celebrate but in any case, it’s on my mind. I’m not saying I have the quick fix answer here. It may always be a struggle for me to give food and drink the correct place in my head and my heart.
I’m just saying it’s a worthy struggle.