I don’t know what bothered me about it, exactly.
I was just standing there, minding my own business, watching some kids throw apples away, attempting to enjoy the Dunkin’ Donuts latte lite I had just gotten.
It is September, and I picked up a coffee habit around last Christmas. That’s a lie. I had the habit also when I was in the eighth grade but stopped drinking it, mostly under the threat of stunted growth. Too little, too late. I'm still five feet tall.
Dunkin’ Donuts has made a lot of money off me this year—more than I’d like to admit. I even earned my Starbucks gold card in the past eight months. I may have earned a drink or two from Beans & Brews as well. So you could say I’m kind of a connoisseur of lattes.
When my LDS coworker came and stood next to me and said, “I didn’t know Balibrea was a coffee drinker,” I denied nothing. I said, “I shouldn’t be, but I am.”
He stooped over awkwardly, staring at my CTR ring on one hand, and my latte in the other. He said, “I just have to know. Why do you drink coffee?”
I was so taken aback by the question. He saw that I was drinking it. I admitted I knew better, by church standards. I figured he would just make his silent judgment of me, and we’d both move on. But no. I didn’t even know what to say in response because I was taken off guard. I can’t be sure, but I think I muttered something along the lines of, “I don’t know. I just like it,” as my eyes wandered nervously away from the face of his judgment. I guess that was good enough because he then proceeded to ask me for help creating a Linux installation disc. (P.S. not part of my job description. Also, no idea how to do anything of the sort.)
So, what is the real answer? Why have I been drinking this glorious tasting nectar from the coffee plant? I have a few reasons, if you “have to know.”
First and foremost, I just like it. I mean, isn’t that why anybody makes a decision? Isn’t that where temptation comes from anyway—desire? I enjoy my lattes. Plain and simple. I guess people who smoke weed enjoy that. People who drink alcohol enjoy that. You can make these kinds of comparisons all day. I’m not making excuses. I’m giving you the answer to my coworker’s question: because I like it. I don’t feel dependent on it. While I enjoy it and like to drink it regularly, I am not dying or getting headaches without it. It’s not a need I have. I just like it.
Secondly, and this may sound silly if you’ve not indulged in or enjoyed coffee drinks before, but it relaxes me. It has become a morning ritual of sorts. I come to work, I get lots of things done. I make sure testing is running smoothly. I knock out work orders. I reply to emails. I grade work. I enter it into Gradebook. I make my classroom and desk organized and pretty. I get things done. And then I take a break. My drink actually centers me for a few minutes. I focus on that. And then I feel ready and energized to take on the rest of the day.
Thirdly, you may call this justifying, but there are benefits to drinking coffee. In this article from Runners’ Magazine a few months ago, I read about the benefits of drinking coffee. Some benefits are mood improvement (oh, what was my second reason again?), stress relief (huh? Reason #2?), boost in antioxidants, decrease of diabetes risk, enhanced brain function, and lower risk of heart disease. I dare you to find a similar study in defense of drinking soda.
You could easily send me to an article like this one which has some direct contradictions to the article above. And I probably wouldn’t contend, because I think water is the best thing to drink always, which is why I drink so much of it.
So now I’d like to get to the real reason I wrote this post: why did it upset me so much that my coworker asked me that question? The long and short of it is, it’s none of his business. Honest and truly, my decisions don’t need to be questioned except by those closest to me who are concerned for my well-being. My decisions are between me and the Lord. (Note: It could be that I was automatically defensive because of my own guilt, but going by his tone, I’m pretty sure his question was more due to nosiness and judginess than curiosity. And that bugs me.)
I have a problem when people who are overly concerned with the decisions of others, and especially with those that are visible decisions. For example, most church members don’t get tattoos. Some have them: some got them before they converted to the church, some during periods of inactivity, and others while they were active! Since it’s a visible decision, would you walk up to them and say, “Now, I just have to know. Why would you get a tattoo?” I would guess that the person would probably have a few reasons for having chosen that, but does it really matter? The fact is that it was their decision, period. It really is none of your concern. Does a tattoo put some kind of damper on the faithfulness of a church member? Are you concerned that they make you or other church members look bad somehow?
When you see somebody not taking the sacrament, do you ask them why not?
You can’t see somebody’s pornography addiction. You can’t see the lies coming out of somebody’s mouth. You can’t see the premarital relations couples are engaging in (I hope). There are lots of things people do that you can’t see. If you could see these things, would you ask about them?
To be quite frank, many of us prioritize or assign levels to commandments. We know the three greatest sins are those of perdition, adultery, and murder. Not in that order, obviously. But I think we’re pretty safe in saying that somebody who drinks or smokes or breaks the sabbath is probably not in as much trouble as a murderer or adulterer. But I think from the smallest of struggles to the largest, it isn’t our stewardship to worry about the decisions of others. It has been commanded of us to love. Make people feel welcome and loved and hopeful that they can change and be forgiven.
As a common example of prioritizing, let’s look at caffeinated soda. Some people were brought up being taught that caffeine is not acceptable (see vending machines on BYU campus). “Gasp! Who brought the regular Coca-Cola to mutual?!” Some people were brought up being taught that that’s just not the case. “Love me some D.P.!” But do you see that it’s a big deal to one group, and not that big of a deal to another? Our backgrounds are so different. I don’t see the need to question why these people do what they do. Be comfortable with your decisions, and live peaceably with the decisions of others.
But I am not writing this to debate the “seriousness” of sins or their consequences. I’m writing to remind you that the way you look at something is not the way that everybody else does. If you have never drank coffee in your life, hey! Good for you, man. I’m sure you have made some decisions in your life I wouldn’t have made. But as President Uchtdorf so eloquently reminded us, “Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.” If you don’t drink coffee, maybe you eat meat more often than in winter, cold, or famine. Maybe you eat Hostess cupcakes instead of herbs, fruits, and grains. Maybe you drink alcohol sometimes. Maybe you smoke. Maybe you stay up too late and sleep in too long (nah, you’ve never done that).
What matters ultimately is the promise at the end of Doctrine and Covenants 89:
18 And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones;
19 And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures;
20 And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.
21 And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them. Amen.
I think these verses speak for themselves. As with any commandment we choose not to obey, we’re simply depriving ourselves of blessings. We know that when we make sacrifices to improve ourselves and our spirituality, we are blessed. Please rest assured that I know that. I don’t need you to be concerned with my decisions, or the sometimes complicated reasons why I make them.
I’m in a very good place right now spiritually. My faith is strong. My gratitude is high. I make a lot of good decisions—mostly good, I think. I believe the Lord is proud of me and how far I’ve come recently, however weak I may be in some areas.
Maybe you have some serious, invisible struggles. Maybe you have smaller, visible ones. Whatever things you do struggle with, trust that the Lord will bless you as you try to overcome them—if or when you decide you want to receive more blessings. And know that, unless it comes from a place of genuine love and concern, I do not consider it my place to ask you about them. I don’t have to know.