Despite some reduction in the use of alcohol amongst teenagers, binge drinking rates remain stubbornly high in Australia. The desire to drink to be drunk is a mentality I personally understand.
The first time I was allowed out of a night by myself, at 15, I was offered a half bottle of wine at a dance, immediately I guzzled the lot with the subsequent desired effect. Enduring school but living for the weekend inebriation was a state of mind for the next few years of life.
There are lots of other ways to binge more acceptable than drink or drugs. Some people can’t resist chocolate, others are hooked on gaming, Netflix bingeing is big in Australia and on and on we could go. Let me pause for a moment to take a deeper look at a bingeing phenomenon plaguing our affluent society.
Millennials, the cohort born 1982-2004, are notorious for “living on line”, especially in relation to social media. What is it about Facebook that causes it to cling so closely? Obviously it creates a sense of sociability – you know what’s happening in the lives of peers, and vice – versa. But why is this so important?
The answer would seem to be that friendship is extremely tenuous. The average person has over 300 friends on Facebook yet reports of loneliness have skyrocketed. This is a sign that genuine intimacy, especially deep non sexual closeness, is in crisis in our culture. I believe that bingeing on social media is an attempt at self-medication whereby wounded souls seek a sense of significance by mutually flaunting their inner and outer selves.
How else to explain the dissemination of so much absolute trivia? Tragically, since human beings are God’s created children made for his glory (Isaiah chapter 43 verses 6-7) this sort self exposure can only deepen a painful sense of incompleteness. How does the Lord want to reach out to help and heal these millions of sufferers?
Christian parents and preachers have often imbibed the secular message of, “You are special”. Some charismatic churches happily tell their young people they are “princes and princesses”. Even though there is some biblical truth in these assertions (Romans chapter 5 verse 17) pastoral experience teaches me the whole culture of maximised self-esteem is disastrous. This is because the “look at me” line always omits to teach that solid relationships are grounded in mutual suffering.
The relational authority of Jesus to be our King comes only through his choice to be crucified on our behalf (Matthew chapter 27 verse 37). Voluntary suffering for someone else’s good is the test and tie of true friendship. Because parents and pastors have often failed to model this gospel truth many marriages and congregations are permeated by gutless relationships. It is commonplace thinking that if things get too hard we can shop for another church, or even another spouse!
The One True Friend
If there is to be a harvest amongst the bingers, especially from a younger generation, the people of God are going to have to model friendship in a much gutsier way. This must begin with a deeper submission to the New Testament teaching about what it means to have Jesus as a friend.
On the way to the cross he taught, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John chapter 15 verse 13). Friends are people you willingly suffer for. Ask yourself; “Who am I suffering for in order to make the church a place full of safer and more enduring relationships?” Don’t leave it to paid pastors to show Christian commitment, ask God to stretch you in your relationships.
Choosing Your Friends
Jesus was a friend of tax collectors, sinners and unfaithful apostles, all of whom were chosen for him by the Father (Matthew chapter 11 verse 19; John chapter 17 verse 6). As Christ didn’t get to choose his friends we don’t have that liberty either. Walking in the way of the cross will create some very unlikely, but great, friendships.
Pray about who your friends should be, commit to them unconditionally and never drop them when things get tough. This is how to model the true intimate sacrificial love of God in an age of conditional “friends with benefits”. May the Lord make us friends of bingers.
The Rev. Dr John Yates is an Anglican minister in Perth and has 5 children and 7 grandchildren. He spends time in praying, mentoring and writing.
John Yates’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/john-yates.html