Friday, June 24, 2011

THE BIG PICTURE: Alcohol, Role Models, and Me

Twelve years old and running free; I was a preteen, just beginning to formulate my thoughts about life, the world and who I would become.  I spent most of my free time hanging out with friends, and one friend in particular whose mom spent a lot of time hanging out with us.  She was cool, available to listen, and she introduced me to Miller beer.  As I look at the bigger picture in hindsight, she was depressed, an alcoholic, and her daughters were following along in her footsteps.
A larger percentage of American parents are providing their teens with alcohol.  “Half of Australian adults and 63 per cent of Australians on a higher income believe 15 to 17-year-olds should be allowed to consume alcohol under parental supervision at home, according to the latest MBF Healthwatch survey.”  Science Daily* (links provided at bottom of post)
 Studies show teens who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcoholism than those who begin drinking at 21.Alcoholism is the leading cause of death in teens.  It contributes to drunk driving, date rape and violence. Teens today are reporting they are drinking to relieve stress.*  (Does that sound familiar?)
Educators, healthcare professionals and parents are always discussing what we can do to address this crisis of youth at risk.  But there’s one part of the discussion that isn’t easy to bring to the table.
Part of the big picture: our subtle messages
Recently I volunteered with a group of moms to coordinate a lunch for our high school students on campus.  A suggestion was made to make virgin alcoholic drinks for the students.  The moms were in agreement over the idea.  But I was the stick in the mud.  I was concerned with the big picture.  What message are we sending kids if we cannot even have a school lunch without considering an alcoholic drink-virgin or not?  “Here’s your cocktail, Jake.  I know it’s just a virgin drink, but when you are older you will be able to have real fun and drink like a real man.  By the way, don’t drink at Prom”.
There is a growing trend in our culture-it is also growing in the body of Christ-to have an alcoholic beverage with every social event, every restaurant visit, every game on television, every Friday night, every barbecue, and even while visiting our friends during kid’s playgroup.  Now before you get defensive, I am not about to condemn you.  I am not going to tell you alcohol is evil.  I don’t think it is.  But I am asking you to weigh the decision of the measure of alcohol you welcome.  Consider its power and message in your life.
The bigger picture:  You are being watched
You may have great discussions with your kids about drinking responsibly.  But if you are one of the many adults who say “Hoot! Hoot! It’s margarita time”, you are sending a message to your kids.  Your actions speak louder than your words.  Every time you are with your peers are you “Hoot! Hooting!” about the drinks that will be with you?  Every time you have a social event or go out for a fantastic dinner-must the alcohol be front and center?
Our behavior is a powerful teacher.  It speaks messages without words.
In essence our behavior is saying, “If you want to have a good time, good friends, and good dinner, alcohol must be part of it”.  And our kids-who can’t wait to be adults-learn they really can’t have a good time without it.  It doesn’t matter what you say about it, your actions are speaking volumes.
You may be saying, “Oh brother, Bonnie” or something worse by now.  But consider it.  Do you or do you not believe in the unspoken messages of powerful role models?
Kids sneak alcoholic drinks for many reasons.  Will you consider one of the reasons is the message we portray, “In order to have a good time, you need a drink”?  Why wouldn’t they want to be drinking as teens?  Our actions say its what people do when they get together with friends, and without it they are depriving themselves.
The bigger picture:  You have a weaker brother
We have a society filled with recovering alcoholics, addictive behaviors, families hanging by a thread due to alcoholism and broken hearts who have lost loved ones to drunk drivers.  These individuals exist in your family, your work place, your neighborhood, your church.  Do you know who they are?  You may know some by name, but you likely have no clue how many more wounded people are in your life.
We don’t know who might be one drink away from becoming an alcoholic.  We don’t know who has been devastated by alcohol.  But the Holy Spirit does. He knows every one of their names and He has the bigger picture in mind.  It’s why Paul says, “If I can thank God for my food and enjoy it, then why let someone spoil it just because he thinks I am wrong?  Well, I will tell you why.  It is because you must do everything for the glory of God.  Even your eating and drinking.  So don’t be a stumbling block to anyone, whether they are Jews or Gentiles or Christians.  That is the plan I follow too, not doing what I like or what is right for me, but what is right for them . so that they can be saved”. (I Corinthians 10:30-33)
Have a discussion with the One who knows the bigger picture
My decision to drink or not to drink should not influence your decision.  It is up to each one of us to sit quietly with Jesus and listen to His direction.  The problem is, I don’t think we do.  If each of us were listening to His direction, I hold the opinion that less of the body of Christ would be drinking as liberally as we do.
As you listen, He will tell some of you to go ahead and have a social drink.  He will tell some of you to use more discretion.  He will tell others to stop drinking all together.  As a follower of Jesus and not of the world, will you ask Jesus to clearly tell you what He wants you to do?
Is there a weaker brother I need to consider?  God may not tell you the name, but He may whisper to you, “Yes”.
Am I being a stumbling block to anyone?  Ask God if your social drinking is causing anyone–of any age–to stumble.
Am I relying upon drinking instead of relying upon You?  Invite God to search your heart.  Do you rely on a drink to relax you, loosen you up socially, or to fit in, more than you rely upon Him?  Then it has become an idol.  (I gave up Coca-Cola when I realized I made it an idol.)
It is the season for proms and graduations.  Saturday I will serve my shift for Sober Grad Night until 1:30 a.m., another shift of parents will volunteer until 4:30 a.m.  I don’t know what my little picture job is for the night, but my big picture job is to do my part to protect and raise a culture of mentally, socially, spiritually, physically healthy kids.
Sometimes the big picture compels me to give up my sleep (1:30 isn’t easy these days).   The big picture compels me to give up “what I like and what is right for me”.  It’s part of being a disciple and that big picture job is to be salt in this culture.
P.S. If you want to look deeper, here are some sites and verses to check out:
Many parents encourage underage drinking, Australian study finds This article talks about teen alcohol consumption and its effects on brain development
Teenage Drinking Statistics and Information.  This site includes practical ways for parents to communicate with their children regarding alcohol.

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