[info_box]Guest Blogger #8: Jennifer Carroll. Jennifer is passionate about seeing people come to their full potential in God. She enjoys teaching, journaling, going to the beach, and LOVES being newly married. She resides with her husband, Matthew, in Fort Worth, Texas…and…. enjoys a cup of coffee for special occasions. ;-)[/info_box]
I gazed thoughtfully at the neon-lettered chalkboard above me.
The contemporary music played – not too loudly – over the speakers in the university coffee house, as if to remind the college students that the night was young and ready for some caffeine-induced study time. Choices, choices…the menu was full of them.
Finally I settled on my favorite – a white mocha – and gave my order to the blonde-haired guy working behind the counter. We exchanged a few words about upcoming tests, and he ducked behind the espresso machine. Within just a minute or two, he scooted the drink across the counter with a grin, “I threw in an extra shot for you; hope that helps you pass!”
I loved coffee, but I had never experienced a double shot before.
Whoa. My roommate didn’t quite know what to do with me, but I felt great. It was only about nine, and I had until eight the next morning to internalize the concepts needed for my music theory test. “Who needs sleep?” I thought, “This is awesome!” The buzz, and my oh-so-productive study time lasted until four o’clock the morning of the test. I crashed for a few hours, then got up, and aced it. Feeling that this approach was a great success, I continued my coffee habit as often as I could, and felt quite pleased with the grades I was making.
When I began college, I began to slowly understand what it meant to have your professors run your life. I was a music major, which meant that I was practicing somewhere between two and four hours every day, in addition to completing all my other homework, attending classes, being a part of the school choir, and trying to have clean laundry by Monday morning. Eating and sleeping quickly became luxuries that I often did not have time for, so…I emptied my wallet and filled my body with the wonder drug of caffeine.
Symptoms can accumulate slowly sometimes, and, like the well-known story about the frog in the boiling water, we may often learn to ignore them until suddenly we are at a crisis point. As each stress-filled month passed, I got more tired and more depressed, but still was intent on the completion of my degree, regardless of the cost to my body. I wasn’t having fun with my music, I became exhausted, and I was frequently not good company, since smiling and laughing took precious energy that I literally did not have to spare. I thought to myself that it didn’t matter so much if I didn’t feel well; I could always feel great again in about five minutes once I had my coffee. To me, It was all about being in control.
I remember the day that I felt my energy levels had come to a crisis low.
I had finished most of my classes for the day, and walked in the door of our little duplex, absolutely spent. As I lay on the homey quilt, staring up at the bunkbed slats, I felt as if someone had attached a vacuum hose to my arms and legs, sucking all the energy and life out of me. Getting up and taking three steps would have been a monumental achievement, because I was too tired to even think about doing that. I was so tired, it scared me. I thought to myself, “Will I ever have normal energy again? Will I ever feel good again?” I was too tired to eat, and it literally took too much energy to go to sleep, so I just lay there.
God was gracious to me in the midst of all my lapses in dietary judgment, and He got me through those next couple of years leading up to graduation. I was able to limit my caffeine intake, supplement my diet with whole food sources, and make better menu choices, but deep damage had been done to my whole system. The shock of pushing so hard had left me, at the end of it all, totally worn down. I cried often, and felt depressed almost constantly. I would wake up after fourteen consecutive hours of sleep and feel exhausted, as if I had just run a marathon.
As I tried to work through, and pray through, and improve my eating through all of those low, low months, the thing that I struggled with most was how distant I felt from God. I remembered in past years, how my times with Him had been full of delight and joy. I remembered insights and analogies He had given me. I remembered such sweet, sweet fellowship—and now? What was this shadow, this cloud? It was as if my soul were wearing fogged-over glasses. I would squint, and try to see through, rubbing the lens over and over again with precious little results. John 10:10 haunted me: “…I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” If this was abundant life, I wanted out.
It has been four years since that season of my life, and since then I have come to realize that God has designed our bodies to work in such a way that all parts-spirit, soul, and body- harmonize together. The state of your body affects the state of your soul. Depression was a very real companion to me during that season, but it wasn’t because I was a failure as a Christian, it was because I was abusing God’s temple, and paying a very high price for doing so. I wanted to be in control at all times, and caffeine was my way to accomplish that.
I tend to be a perfectionist, so the caffeine to me translated into having control over my grades. For others, it may mean having control through having a spotlessly clean house, or perfectly groomed children. Control may mean that you get to be in charge of the ladies’ ministry at church, your home-owners association, and the PTA meeting tomorrow night. It may translate into perfect, gourmet meals that would send Martha Stewart running to get your recipe.
I don’t know what control means to you, but I know what control did to me, and it wasn’t worth it. Here is the hard truth about control: the more in control you try to be, the more out of control you probably are. Am I advocating poor grades, messy houses, dinner at McDonald’s, and no community involvement? Absolutely not. What I am advocating is the idea of balance.
Four years and a lot of sleep and whole foods later, I am enjoying so much more of the abundant life that John 10:10 talks about. And I have learned to ask a different set of questions. Instead of asking, “Do I get some rest, or drink coffee?” I am learning to ask, “Am I trying to take control over this situation, or am I allowing my body to have the things God designed for it to have like pure food, exercise, sleep, and water? Am I worried, anxious, or irritable? How might that be signaling to me a depleted area of my body? Do I want to pay the price of crashing after the buzz wears off?” And when I think about it in that light, the decision is not so hard after all. Now, when I am feeling like I want to take control, I gladly remind myself that God is in the driver’s seat of this girl’s life. Then I take a nap.
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