Tomorrow

“Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34).

I am tempted to skip this verse, or to try to separate it from the beautiful promise of Jesus that we need not be anxious, that we can be like birds and flowers, safe in the hands of the Lord. The glorious crescendo of seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness, coupled with the guarantee, “and all these things will be added to you,” seems like a fitting conclusion to the Lord’s admonition not to worry. I would be happy to stop at that promise. It seems wrong, somehow, for Jesus to talk about the trouble of each day. That mention of daily trouble seems cold, almost cynical, after we have been told not to be anxious.

But in this sin-polluted world, every day has trouble. The same Lord who promised blessings on the poor in spirit and on those who hunger and thirst for righteousness also spoke blessings on those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. While we strive to imitate Jesus, our very efforts will bring forth enemies whom we are commanded to love. Christians have faced arrest, imprisonment, torture, and execution for the sake of Christ and is Gospel. Communist governments and Muslim governments have forced Christians to endure hunger, thirst, nakedness, homelessness, and disease—even while Christians in other parts of the world were laboring to send food and water and other necessities to their fellow believers in Christ.

As we try to lift our spirits and praise God, other concerns weight on our minds—the needs of our fellow Christians, and our own needs as well. We need daily bread. We sin every day and need God’s forgiveness every day. Other sinners harm us every day, and we must forgive them every day. Every day we are tempted to sin. Every day we are confronted with evil. Every day we need God’s gifts, his forgiveness, his leading, and his deliverance. We cannot live two or three days at a time, which is good, because one day with all its problems is enough for us to bear.

Therefore, we do not pray about yesterday’s bread. We received it yesterday and thanked God for it yesterday: now it is time for us to move on. We do not worry about tomorrow’s bread. Tomorrow is not here yet; we will ask God for the things we need tomorrow when we get there. We pray for daily bread today. Likewise, we do not pray that God would forgive yesterday’s sins. We prayed about them yesterday, and we are confident that those sins are already forgiven. We do not pray about tomorrow’s sins. We hope that we will not sin tomorrow, but when we do sin, we will ask for forgiveness then. We pray today that God would forgive the sins we committed today. In the same way, we forgave yesterday the sins committed against us yesterday. We have no need to think today about the sins that might be committed against us tomorrow. We seek help from God to forgive the sins committed against us today. We ask God to lead us today. We ask God to rescue us from evil today. Yesterday is over and will not be changed; tomorrow is still in the hands of God. Today is the only day we need to consider today.

This manner of living one day at a time does not require us to ignore all other days. We remember God’s blessings of the past, the things he did for us earlier, with joy and thanksgiving. We anticipate the future with joy, looking forward to the blessings God has promised. We make plans for the future—unlike the birds, we sow and reap and store in barns. Jesus tells us not to be anxious. Let tomorrow come with its problems, but do not worry about those problems today. Allow faith to be a daily exercise, not something limited to the past or to the future.

All his life Jesus knew that the cross was coming. He did not weaken himself by being anxious about it every day. Only when the hour of his Passion arrived did Jesus spend time in prayer wrestling with the reality of the cross. Until the day of his suffering came, Jesus was content to live each day on its own terms, dealing with the challenges of that one day. Now he gives each of us sufficient strength for each day. If we borrow trouble from other days, we weaken ourselves. “Tomorrow will be anxious for itself,” Jesus says. We have enough to keep ourselves busy today. J.

The Gentiles

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or “What shall we drink?’ or “What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (Matthew 6:31-32).

Jesus begins with birds, moves on to flowers, and ends with the Gentiles. Birds are part of creation; they are neither good nor bad; they simply are. Flowers also are part of creation, but Jesus assigns them to the fire. Now he speaks of Gentiles—the outsiders, the unbelievers, the ones who are not part of his kingdom. Our Father sends sun and rain to all people, whether they believe in him or not. A person’s wealth and comfort today is no measure of that person’s faith, salvation, or eternal home in heaven. God sends daily bread whether we ask for it or not. We pray for daily bread, but not to earn it. God would not forget to send our daily bread if we forgot to remind him. He does not withhold our daily bread until we pray the proper words. Our prayers remind ourselves of the source of every good blessing we enjoy.

If God intends to send us good things whether we pray or forget to pray, why should we pray? We talk to God because we have a relationship with God. He is our Father; we are his children. The Gentiles have no such relationship with the true God. They may pray to false gods; they may trust spells and incantations to bring them good things; or they might believe that they earn everything they receive because of their good deeds. We trust God, not ourselves. We discuss with God everything that matters to us.

Jesus already said that we are not to pray like the Gentiles. Our prayers have no magic ability to give us what we want. Jesus adds that we should not worry as the Gentiles worry. When we pray to God about our needs, we mention those needs with confidence. We already know that God loves us. We know that he understands us. Since God can do anything he wants, we can assume that he will meet our needs. Experience shows us the same truth that Jesus proclaims: we receive what we need from the hand of God whether we worry about it or not. The things of this world are in God’s hands as surely as our eternal safety is in his hands.

Food and drink and clothing come from God. Our behavior in this world belongs also in God’s hands. Giving to the poor and praying and fasting are not reasons for us to worry. We are expected to give and to pray and to fast, but these actions are not worthy of our anxiety. The Gentiles—those trying to earn God’s blessings and his rescue from evil—worry about these things. We know that these things are gifts. We continue living according to our relationship with God, not worrying about whether the things we do are good enough for God. God has accepted us, not according to our good deeds, but because of what Jesus did for us. For that reason, we do not have to be anxious. J.

Lilies of the field

“And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28-30).

All people possess a few basic needs: food and drink, clothing and shelter, something to do, someone to love, and a reason to hope. We pray about these things when we ask our Father for “daily bread.” It might seem natural to worry about these things, even to be anxious about them, but Jesus tells us that such worry is not natural. When we live according to the human nature God created—our nature before it was contaminated by sin—we accept what we have as peacefully as flowers accept what they have. We do not ask ourselves how we are going to obtain more.

Jesus remarked that God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” Now Jesus adds that outward beauty is given even to the grass of the field, “which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven.” Most of us do not use grass as fuel, but in western Asia wood is scarce and therefore is too valuable to be burned. When Jesus speaks of fire, he never mentions it lightly. Fire pictures eternal punishment. Jesus assures us that even those who will end in judgment’s fire will have their needs met today. God does not care less for those who trust in him, those who will spend eternity with him in a perfect new creation.

In the present world, which is not perfect, people sometimes face poverty, desperate need, and starvation. Every day more than enough food exists in the world to meet the needs of every person, but it is not distributed evenly. Therefore, Jesus encourages us to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick, and even care for people in prison. We help God keep his promises to care for his people, even as God also cares for birds and flowers. As we help our neighbors, we are not earning God’s blessings. The blessings of God remain free gifts—and that is one more reason we do not have to worry.

We are not among those heading for the fire. We are of great value to God. Therefore, we need not worry about the things of this world. We need not worry about our physical needs, nor about whether we have done enough good things for God, or even whether we have enough faith. Jesus calls us people of little faith, but little faith is enough faith. The size of our faith does not matter; the power of the God in whom we trust matters. God keeps his promises even to those who have only a little faith.

Unlike the birds, we sow and reap and store in barns. Unlike the flowers, we toil and spin. We use the talents and resources God gives us to take care of ourselves and to help one another. Through all that we do, we remember God and his promises. Our eyes are on Jesus, not on ourselves. For that reason, we do not have to be anxious. J.

Do not be anxious

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. 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 which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matthew 6:25-27).

The words sound like a commandment: “Thou shalt not be anxious,” or, “Thou shalt not worry.” We know that when we worry, we are not trusting God. When our eyes are on God, we will not worry, because we know that God keeps all his promises.

Yet when we say to one another, “Don’t worry,” we want our words to be heard as a promise, not as a command. We threaten no punishment against the person who worries. Instead, we assure others that they have no reason to worry, that everything is under control, that everything will turn out fine.

Jesus offers the same promise. To assure us that his promise is true, Jesus tells us to look at the birds. They do not worry, and yet God takes care of them. Jesus is not telling us to “be like a bird”: he simply wants us to be confident that God takes care of us. Birds lack the intelligence to plan and to worry. We have enough intelligence to plan, and with that intelligence comes the capability to worry. We also have the capability to trust. We see that God kept his promises in the past. Unlike the birds, we know that God provides us with everything we have. Therefore, we are able to trust that God will continue doing what he has done. We are able to trust that God is going to do what he promised to do.

Worry is counter-productive. It wastes time and energy. Worry never makes us taller or causes us to live longer lives. In fact, worry harms our lives. It has the potential to shorten lives. For that reason, some people treat worry as a sin; they take the words “do not be anxious” as another commandment from the Lord.

Our faith—and our physical lives as well—will be far healthier when we treat these words of Jesus as a promise. Do not worry about food and drink, about daily bread, because God will provide them. Do not worry about the forgiveness of sins, because Jesus has already paid in full to remove all our sins. Do not worry about what you will do for God, because God will guide you by his Word. Do not worry about all the big decisions (or all the little decisions) of life, because you are in God’s hands. Even when you make a mistake, God forgives you and cleanses you and gives you the ability to continue serving him from that point onward. So, do not worry. J.

Feelings (something more than feelings)

When I was younger (so much younger than today), I was drawn toward Stoic philosophy. Logic and reason were guides to life; feelings were to be ignored. After all, the great virtues all involve working against one’s feelings. Courage is not lack of fear: courage is doing the right thing in spite of fear. True love is not feeling good because of someone else; true love is caring more about the other person than about one’s self. Victory over evil does not come from never being tempted; victory over evil comes from resisting temptation, from saying no to temptation.

Yes, I was Mr. Spock, but with a better script-writer than Spock had. I did not prattle about logic, because logic consists of the rules that govern reason. Loving logic rather than reason is like loving the rules of football rather than the game of football. The rules make the game possible, but the game is the thing. Reason, of course, has limits; there are things that are beyond reason, and those things are of vast importance. Having learned of the reality that lies beyond reason, though, does not diminish reason. In fact, reason can be used to study and understand even those messages that come from the world beyond reason.

But in the last few years I have learned that feelings are not to be ignored. A human being consists of body and mind and spirit, and feelings happen at the intersection of body and mind and spirit. Many feelings come from the body, warning the mind and spirit of the body’s needs. Other feelings can come from the mind or the spirit, guiding the whole being along a certain course of action or turning away from a different course of action.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this” most of the time. It is rare for me to start a trip, long or short, without the feeling that I have forgotten something important back at home. If someone at home or at work is in a bad mood, I often feel that I am responsible—I must have done something wrong to annoy him or her. In shopping malls and large stores I often feel threatened and overwhelmed. I feel an eerie sense of doom, and I want to make my purchase and leave as quickly as I can. (And I am grateful for self-serve registers, so I do not have to interact with another person while in the store.)

Negative feelings have their silver linings. I never leave my keys locked in the car, because my feelings of anxiety cause me to clutch the keys in one hand while I close the car door with the other hand. In a similar vein, I never leave my magnetic pass key on my desk at work; I’m always touching it as I go through the secure door of the work area. I am probably kinder to my co-workers than I would otherwise be because of my false sense that their unhappiness is my fault. If bad feelings make me a better person, who am I to complain?

A therapist has helped me to be mindful of my feelings, to look at them and ask myself what they are telling me. Why am I especially jittery on Saturdays? Is it because of the change in routine, the one day that I don’t jump out of bed to head to work or to church? Is it anticipation of the coming Sunday morning responsibilities at church? Or is it awareness that, unless the weather is bad, I will be exposed to the noise of neighbors working in their lawns and gardens with the racket of power tools of various kinds?

In short, I’ve learned that feelings are not to be ignored. They have their place, even if they are not reliable guides for decisions to be made or actions to be taken. Feelings are part of being human. Much as I may have wanted to be a Vulcan, both my parents were human, and I am human too. And that’s not a bad thing—the Lord created humans and said that they made creation “very good.” When sin and evil entered creation, the Lord entered creation as a human to ransom and redeem humans. And the Lord has experienced the full range of human feelings, even as I do, without sinning in the process. Being human, having feelings, is good. J.

Car trouble–chastening, or a thorn?

When I am driving down the street and I smell gasoline, I immediately assume that something is wrong with my car. So long as no warning lights are shining on the dashboard and nothing else seems abnormal about the car’s handling, I try to assure myself that someone else’s car is to blame, or perhaps I am smelling a gas station nearby.

Yesterday as I drove to work, I noticed a strong odor of gasoline. Nothing lit on the dashboard, and the car handled normally, so I worked to assure myself that someone else’s car was to blame. My first candidate was the car in front of me, the one with the “WHF” license plate—certainly that car was to blame for the whiff of gasoline in the air. But when that car went through a yellow light and I stopped at the red light, the odor did not dissipate.

I got downtown, turned a corner, and stalled on the tracks. That was a frightening moment. I turned on the hazard flashers, waited a moment, and turned the key. The car started again. Then I noticed that the fuel gage needle was visibly dropping. I had left home with about five-eights of a tank of gas; a dozen miles later, I was approaching a quarter tank. With the car running, I circled around and headed back the other direction, to the mechanic’s shop where I usually take my car.

Ten to fifteen minutes of solid prayer later, I arrived at the shop, about two minutes before they were due to open. When they opened I was first in line—actually, I was the entire line—and so my car was examined right away. The mechanic found that a bolt had broken, allowing the gasoline to leak. An hour later the car was fixed (although the odor remained, filling the garage after I went home yesterday evening and seeping into the house during the night). All I had lost was an hour at work, fifty dollars for the repair, and about ten dollars of gasoline.

My counselor says that I have an over-developed sense of guilt. When things go wrong, I ask what I have done to deserve it. Somehow this sense is particularly strong when it comes to motor vehicles. Some people would say, “Well, it could have been much worse,” which is of course true. But why does trouble have to happen at all?

Some Christians might call my attention to Hebrews 12, the verses about chastening coming from the Lord because he loves us. That approach reinforces my over-developed sense of guilt. I can easily locate things I am doing that are wrong, and I can persuade myself that God is chastening me for my sins. But that approach does not match what I write and teach about the problems we all face. We live in a world polluted by sin. Sin is unfair. We do not suffer for our own sins: the wicked prosper, while the righteous suffer. If such injustice were not allowed, then Jesus could never have borne the burden for our sins, and we could not be forgiven.

Last Sunday I was teaching about Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Three times Paul prayed to God, asking God to remove the thorn, but God responded, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Paul concluded that when he was weak, then he was strong, because his strength came from the Lord and not from himself. I added that our spiritual enemies want to use our problems to make us doubt God—his love for us, or his ability to protect us, or his willingness to take care of us even though we are sinners. When our problems remind us of the suffering of Christ, the price he paid to redeem us, then our enemies lose and we share in Christ’s victory.

My problem was relatively small and relatively easy to fix. All the same, it served to reinforce my anxiety and stir up again the impression that I deserve to suffer for my sins. I had to remind myself to practice what I preach—to permit the small inconvenience and expense of a car repair to remind me of the cross of Christ and his victory over the greatest of evil, as well as the smallest expressions of evil. J.

Of sin and sickness

At one extreme we can see that we each need to take responsibility for our own lives. We all made choices, whether good or bad, and then we have to live with the consequences of those choices. If we have problems in this world, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

At the opposite extreme, we can see that we are all victims. We are shaped by things we cannot control: by DNA, by our environment, by chemicals in us or around us. When we make mistakes, and when we have problems, we deserve compassion rather than judgment.

We all land somewhere between these two extremes. Sometimes when we try to talk about responsibility, we talk past each other, addressing ourselves to the extreme position we think we are hearing rather than to what the other person is actually saying. What can be said, then, to try to find a meeting point where genuine discussion can take place, consisting more of light than of heat?

  • A sin is still a sin. When any of us does what God forbids, or fails to do what God requires, God holds us responsible. He does not allow us to blame the devil, or the way our parents raised us, or television, or video games, or whatever chemicals might have been involved.
  • Sin damages creation, including people. “The wages of sin is death,” and all the other pains and sorrows that afflict people in this world are likewise the results of sin. There is no one-to-one correspondence between sin and suffering, though. Sin can be regarded as a pollution that corrupts the entire world and harms all people.
  • Life is not fair. God is just and fair, but evil is random and unfair. God limits the harm done by evil, but he permits evil to happen so people can see the difference between good and evil and prefer what is good. Moreover, if God were limited to being just and fair, the sacrifice of Jesus could not redeem and rescue sinners. God permits the injustice of evil so he can provide the greater blessings prompted by his love, his grace, and his mercy.
  • In one sense, every problem in this world is a spiritual problem. Because all problems flow from sin—from rebellion against God—the only ultimate solution for all problems is the righteousness of Christ and his redemption.
  • On the other hand, we are living in a material world. Nearly all of our problems will have a material component. In this sin-polluted world our bodies are vulnerable to accidents, injuries, diseases, allergies, poisons, and the like. In addition to the benefits of God’s grace to take away our sins, we need doctors, nurses, therapists, pharmacists, counselors, and other professionals to help us with our problems. At times we need medicines, casts, crutches, eyeglasses, hearing aids, and other material assistance to support us with our material problems.
  • Mental and emotional sicknesses, including anxiety and depression, also have material components. Among the possible causes of mental illnesses are poor nutrition, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, current stress, previous trauma, abuse, chemical imbalance, physical illness, side-affects of treatment for physical illness, guilt and shame over ongoing sins or past sins, and many more.
  • Among the appropriate responses to mental illnesses, including anxiety and depression, are a physical check-up, faith-based counseling, secular counseling, medication, and hospitalization. Because these illnesses have so many different causes, no single response deals with all cases. A medication or a faith-based counselor that restores the health of one person might be unable to help another or even harmful to another.
  • Mental illness is not a choice. While it might appear that one can address another person’s eating disorder by providing him or her with food, much more is happening inside that person than a choice not to eat. People with depression do not want to feel depressed; they want to feel better. While examples can be given of mental illnesses that began with bad choices—substance abuse and addiction, for one—the person with the illness cannot and should not be expected to fix his or her problems by his or her own strength.
  • Healthy living and good choices can reduce a person’s vulnerability to many illnesses, including mental illnesses. However, they do not guarantee perfect health. Heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or depression can all strike a person who has made good and healthy choices for a lifetime. None of these illnesses is the result of a particular sin or of committing more sins than the healthy person without that illness.

I could go on. Much more remains to be said. Perhaps this is enough, though, to begin a useful conversation. J.

Stressing in the shadow of the moon

Traveling to see the total eclipse of the sun this week meant spending time with extended family. Now I love the members of my family. We get along well with each other, probably better than the average American family. But spending time with family still is stressful. It includes sleeping in an unfamiliar bed, eating on a different schedule, eating different foods, and being exposed to television programs I prefer to avoid. I am an introvert, a highly sensitive person, and am subject to bouts of anxiety. Not every member of the family understands my situation or has any sympathy for my problems.

The first problem was travel. Over the past five years, I have endured increasing dread over road trips. I wake up the morning of a road trip anticipating that something will go wrong with the car, leaving us stranded on the side of the road. In this case, the dread began building two days before the time of departure. I responded by praying that we would be kept safe throughout the trip. We were in fact kept safe, but not in the way I had hoped.

About halfway into the trip, stopping at a gas station, we heard a noise from the front of the car. To me it sounded as if something was scraping against the tire. We first heard it only while steering through turns. As we approached our destination, we also heard the sound when stopping, even without turning. I got out of the car and inspected the wheel well, and nothing was even close to touching the tire. We arrived at the house without further incident, but we knew that someone would have to look at the car before we did any more driving.

Our host knows more about cars than I do, so he went out and looked at the car. He noticed rust on the brake rotors, an indication that the brake pads were not coming in contact with the rotors as they should. He suggested that we visit a local mechanic to have the brakes checked. He also noticed that the front tires were badly worn and indicated that the mechanic would probably want to replace those as well.

The next morning I took the car to the recommended mechanic. He had a lot of customers and said the repair would not happen until the next day. He did say that he would look at the car the same day and let me know what work needed to be done. That meant that I spent the entire day waiting for a telephone call—not a good situation for someone prone to anxiety and in someone else’s house. When the call finally came at the end of the day, the news was not good. Front and rear brakes needed to be replaced—not only brake pads, but rotors and drums as well. All four tires needed to be replaced—the front pair were worn, and the back pair had been cut by failing shock absorbers. The noise we had heard was not from the brakes, though. That noise was from a ball joint in the front of the car. The total repair amounted to hundreds of dollars, although they threw in every discount they could find, including a one hundred dollar reduction given by financing the repair through a credit card supplied by their company.

In short, my feelings of anxiety about the car excursion were accurate. We were in danger of brake failure, which would have been worse than being stranded at the side of the road. My prayers for safety were answered; it may well have been miraculous that the brakes did not fail at any point of the trip.

Meanwhile, we had a second day without the car, a day that had been set aside for a visit to another city. We ended up making that trip in a borrowed car—one more unfamiliar situation to aggravate stress and anxiety.

Then came the actual day of the eclipse. My daughter and I were already energized in anticipation for the event, a feeling not far from the usual anxiety of life. Fortunately, the moon and the sun were not affected by our feelings, and we all enjoyed the show.

The final stage of the tour was driving home in a newly-repaired car. The night before that scheduled drive found me very unsettled. To make matters worse, the dinner menu that evening contained several foods that irritate my digestive system. I tried to limit my intake to small servings of those foods, but the combination of all of them—along with the building stress over the long drive—left me in severe discomfort. This experience is a vicious cycle—anxiety makes digestion worse, while bad digestion makes anxiety worse. The unexpected noise of a vacuum cleaner sent me over the edge. Our host tried to make things better by saying, “J., calm down, we don’t need this drama.” Of course that did not help at all. I needed to get away to another room, be alone for a while, focus on my breathing, and regain control of myself.

It would help if more family members understood what anxiety means. Too often they do act as if anxiety is a choice, something that can be controlled, and therefore a cause for blame. I know that if I showed up with my leg in a cast, they would not ask me to walk normally and blame me for being different. Because anxiety is not visible, it does not gather the same sympathy and understanding as a broken leg, or even a common cold. Even though that makes family events more challenging, I still love the members of my extended family and am glad for the time we are able to spend together. J.

Coffee

In my life I have participated in most of the legal substance-abuse vices, with the exception of tobacco. I’ve been around smokers frequently, but I’ve not been interested in smoking. Some other time I might address the abuse of sugar, salt, and oils, but today I want to write about coffee.

My parents had the habit of drinking a cup of coffee with each meal–breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They drank it black–no sugar, no milk or cream. As a child, I didn’t like the smell of coffee and didn’t want to drink coffee. Even when I went to college, coffee held no appeal for me.

That changed my last year of college. I took a course in art history which met three afternoons a week, right after lunch. The professor turned off the lights and showed slides of paintings and sculptures on the wall. He had a quiet, monotone voice. His quizzes were very difficult. To keep awake in class, I started drinking coffee with my lunch those three days of the week.

By the time I started graduate school, I was in the habit of drinking coffee every day. During my internship, I even learned to drink Cuban espresso, which absolutely requires a lot of sugar because it is so bitter. Also during my internship, I learned that drinking a cup of coffee during Wednesday night Bible class was a bad idea. I was often awake for hours after Bible class, until I learned to stop drinking coffee that late in the day.

When I graduated and started working a steady job, I had one day off each week. After a couple of months, I began to wonder why I always had a headache by lunchtime on my day off. I finally realized that my headache was a symptom of caffeine withdrawal. Rather than giving up on coffee the other six days of the week, I started drinking coffee on my day off as well, and the headaches went away.

My habit became two cups of coffee a day: one with breakfast and the other with lunch. Most of the time I drink it black. On hot summer days, I sometimes prepare a cup of iced coffee, which includes sugar. On some winter days, I treat myself to a mocha, stirring a package of hot chocolate mix into a cup of coffee. I always fix my coffee at home, because I do not want to pay the coffee shop prices to soothe my addiction. I have been careful not to have coffee in the mid-afternoon or evening, because I want to be able to sleep at night.

This was not a scientific study with proper controls, but I have played video games while mildly intoxicated with alcohol, and I have played the same games while “buzzed” with caffeine. In matters of coordination and in matters of judgment, I found that caffeine created more problems for me than alcohol.

Over the years, I have given up alcohol for Lent, and I have given up caffeine for Lent. I found caffeine to be the harder substance from which to fast. Withdrawal symptoms, the desire for a drink, and the rush to return to the substance when Easter arrived all were stronger for coffee than for alcoholic beverages.

My doctor suggested that I cut my coffee drinking in half to help control my blood pressure. At first I resisted his advice, but after I was diagnosed with anxiety, I was willing to cut back to one cup a day. I still drink a mug of coffee after breakfast before I leave for work.

Some web sites list the dangers of caffeine, while others insist that caffeine is safe except in extremely high doses. Some mornings I savor my cup of coffee, while other mornings I worry about my addiction to caffeine. I sympathize with people who struggle with addictions, because I know how powerful my own addiction is in my life. J.

Jim

When I was growing up, one of my neighbors was a boy I have decided to call “Jim.” Jim was four years older than me and was three grades ahead of me in school; he was also large for his age. Not only did we attend the same school: we also went to the same church, and our parents were friends.

I have always thought of Jim as a bully, although I can remember only one occasion when he was unkind to me. I was about eight at the time, and he offered to take me out on the river in his rowboat. When we were over the middle of the river, he started making the boat circle in the water. I was scared and begged to be taken back to the shore, but he just laughed and continued circling. I don’t know why I would have gotten into the boat of someone I feared and didn’t trust. All the same, my friend and I thought of Jim as a monster. When no one else was watching, we dropped rocks into the aforementioned boat. Aside from that, we were careful to keep our distance from Jim.

It occurs to me today that we may have feared Jim purely out of stereotyping. He was big and loud like the classic American bully. For all I know, he may have been very gentle at heart. Remembering Jim is painful for me, because I remember him with fear whether or not he deserved to be feared.

Jim died a few years ago of heart disease. I know that he was helpful to my parents several times over the last few years of his life. My father would probably be astonished to learn that I remember Jim as a bully, especially since I can offer only one example of anything mean that Jim did to me.

On occasion at work I cross paths with young men who remind me of Jim. In general they are hefty and have loud speaking voices. For a while I puzzled over the question of why these young men make me uncomfortable, until I realized their resemblance to Jim. When I am around these young men I feel threatened, even though they are doing nothing even remotely threatening toward me or anyone else.

Fear is not rational. Anxiety does not always make sense. I’m sorry to leave such a blot on Jim’s memory–I hope that somewhere on the internet someone else has written nicer things about him. J.