Sarah Bessey, author of Jesus Feminist and Out of Sorts, recently published this article about her conviction to give up wine cold turkey. When I read it, I immediately experienced two conflicting emotions:

  1. Glad it’s her who gave up the hooch and not me.
  2. It is possible I should give this article a second read.

Bessey reveals in So I Quit Drinking that she had been a lover and consumer of wine throughout adulthood, and it “never bothered [her] in the least,” until it did.

…when it comes to conviction, I have found the Spirit to be gentle but relentless.

Change and transformation is an ongoing process. I am always grateful how the Spirit isn’t harsh or overwhelming but rather how at the right time and in the right moment, we know it’s time to change.

We begin to sense that this Thing that used to be okay is no longer okay. The Thing that used to mean freedom has become bondage. The Thing that used to signal joy has become a possibility of sorrow. The Thing that used to mean nothing has become something, perhaps everything.

Or at least that’s what happened to me. It was fine, everything was fine. And then I knew it wasn’t going to be fine for much longer.

For the past month or so, I’ve been waking up around 2:30 in the morning and running through the litany of basic personal expectations I fail to meet on a day-to-day basis (roughly: eat healthier, write more frequently, drink less wine). My brain churns and grinds like an emotional battering ram. “Get it together, Charlotte.” “This should be easy.” These specific shortcomings or wishes illicit such punishing self-condemnation — enough to keep me awake for hours in the middle of the night — because not one of them is so ridiculously out of reach (not like, say, vampirism). Each of these goals seems doable. And yet day after day I cannot embody the woman I think I should be, the woman I imagine God wants me to be. “If I were a reasonable person with reasonable energy levels and appropriate self-control, I could plan a writing and cooking schedule and keep it to one glass of wine.”

Tomorrow…

Daylight breaks and that voice in my head becomes barbed and insubordinate. I think about how hard I work and how stressful life is and how I have earned my Cabernet and cheeseburger. Not to mention, GOD LOVES ME EXACTLY AS I AM SO WHY BOTHER WITH ALL THE GREENS!?

Bessey says,

And I fought it with my reason. Oh, I had all of the excuses for why I could keep enjoying my wine in the evenings — I work hard, I give so much, I’m not an alcoholic, I’m never hung-over, it doesn’t affect my life, it’s social, it’s fun, it’s in the Bible for pity’s sake! 

But still I sensed the Spirit, infinite patience and rueful love, waiting for me to trust the invitation as I defiantly poured another glass of wine.

I began to be haunted by the writer of Hebrews who said, ‘…let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.’

I began to wonder why I was resisting throwing off the ‘weight’ of alcohol, why I was so determined to keep running my race with this habit that had begun to feel so heavy.

In my soul, I could see the Holy Spirit practically jogging alongside of me to say every now and again: ‘Aren’t you ready to put that heavy weight down yet? I think it’s time you stopped this one. It’s your time to put it down. It looks to me like it’s getting heavier the longer you hold on.’

No, no, I’m fine. I’ll just keep going like this. Everyone else does. It’s fine. We’re all fine. I’m fine. Look at how fine we are.

*pant pant*

Maybe I’ll just sit down at the side of the road for a while to catch my breath.

In the early morning hours, I wonder whether it’s the tender whisper of the Spirit or the spiteful murmurs of the enemy that prod me awake. Food, wine, and [lack of] writing — these God-given gifts have indeed turned burden. At 2:30am, I can’t hear clearly. The voices are both sharp and muddled. The longing for transformation seems swampy and confusing within my blessed theology of grace, where I tend to view transformation as a byproduct. How do I wed the Biblical promise and process of pursuing holiness with the fact that I am loved in total right now — cocktails and bacon, et al?

This has been the source of a lot of transformation in my life: something that was okay suddenly becomes not-okay and inside of that, there is an invitation to more shalom, more peace, more hope, more love, more trust, more wholeness. It’s never about deprivation, it’s about becoming who we were meant to be all along.

The pressing of God’s thumb has felt like the hand of a massage therapist to someone with knots in their back: here is the knot, the pressure point, the source of the pain, and the pressing perhaps feels like more pain until suddenly it feels like release and exhale and movement.

Yes, God’s thumb had come down on my drinking and I was wriggling under the weight, resisting and bargaining and excusing.

Bessey goes on to say,

I think that conviction has gotten a bit of a bad rap in the Church over the past little while. It’s understandable. We have an overcorrection to a lot of the legalism and boundary-marker Christianity that damaged so many, the behavior modification and rule-making and imposition of other people’s convictions onto our own souls.

But in our steering away from legalism, I wonder if we left the road to holiness or began to forget that God also cares about what we do and how we do it and why.

Conviction is less about condemnation than it is about invitation. It’s an invitation into freedom. It’s an invitation into wholeness.”

Bessey gorgeously depicts the gentle imposition of the spirit into our places of sin — good things turned too good and then gone bad. And yet I still find myself lodged in a corner, bound by the weight of that sin, and my inability to conquer it. She says of finally deciding to give up wine full stop: “Once I stepped out in trust, once I said yes to the invitation from God, I was met with goodness.” She’s never looked back.

But what if letting go of the elemental sin in our lives (not to mention true addiction) isn’t quite so easy? What if, two months in, we’re met with brittle failure instead of evident goodness? Is the road to “holiness” for naught? This is exactly where I was hoping for a bit more consideration from the author. Something resembling this…

Speaking of Jesus, the author of Hebrews also wrote:

First [Christ] said [to the Father], ‘Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them’ — though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, ‘Here I am, I have come to do your will.’ He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (10:8-10).

Recognizing (for the umpteenth time) my inability to go bare-knuckle on my own struggles, I pray my favorite prayer: Help. That God might hold my hand, drawing it ever-so-subtly away from these pleasures I so needlessly cling to. By grace alone, maybe I’ll skip dessert tonight. Maybe I’ll have water instead of wine. If I don’t, then sometime in the dark hours I’ll talk to Jesus and confess my failure, that I’m incapable of even the most basic endeavors (like performing at work and taking care of my body). We’ll go back and forth like this:

“Why can’t I do the thing I want to do?” — “I am here.”

“I am absurd.” — “I love you.”

“I’m so disappointed in myself.” — “I love you still.”

And then we’ll do it all over again the next day, but with a bit more face-time stowed preciously in my spiritual arsenal. Perhaps this grappling in and of itself — this trying and failing, this widespread discomfort — is the very thing that leads us into deeper surrender, and more profound reliance on Christ’s unyielding rescue. This, I think, might be holiness.