“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit…”Ephesians 5:18
The Desire to Escape
I think it was last year that I found out that ostriches don’t actually stick their heads in the sand when they’re afraid. It’s a popular misconception, but according to National Geographic Kids (and a bunch of sites for grownups), ostriches do stick their heads into the ground, but only to care for their eggs. And obviously not for very long otherwise, they would suffocate!
So ostriches may not hide in the sand at the first sign of danger. However, in this broken world, full of danger, disappointment, and difficulty, when normal life can be utterly exhausting and overwhelming, the impulse to stick your head in the sand is not only attractive. The desire to escape is a universal experience. Can I get an amen?
Some “escapes” can be fun and memorable. Southwest Airlines advertises “Wanna Get Away” rates to fly you somewhere warm or beautiful or historic (or just different). Travel and time off can be a fantastic way to relax, make memories, and recharge for the next season of life. But most people can’t afford regular trips to the mountains or the beach. Even the ones who can afford it aren’t immune to stress and anxiety. So the desire to escape endures, even after a nice vacation.
Ways to Escape
There are many ways to escape from stress and anxiety that are healthy and good — going for a bike ride, having coffee with a friend, working out, taking a nap, having a date night with your spouse, learning a new hobby, reading a good book, baking bread, and so many more.
However, many forms of escape are equally dangerous and destructive. And here’s where the problems often come in. Alcohol can be an escape. A few drinks aren’t necessarily harmful. But as the Apostle Paul noted (in the verse above), drunkenness is often the context for all sorts of problems. The combination of fear and uncertainty in 2020, mixed with way more time at home pushed many people into dangerous territory with alcohol this year. Last week, a report showed that overall car accidents were down in Wisconsin from March to July this year. However, “Alcohol-involved crashes were up 50%,” which contributed to a rise in overall traffic deaths. That’s clearly not good.
Painkillers and other drugs can be an escape. The number of people who overdosed on opioids increased so much since 2013 (with a spike in 2017) that the average US life expectancy temporarily decreased. That’s a national tragedy.
Overeating, binge-watching Netflix, and losing hours of your life scrolling Facebook or TikTok may not be as immediately dangerous as drugs and alcohol. But let’s be honest. Do these escapes lead to a more flourishing life? No. They may in fact contribute more to anxiety, depression, and loneliness, and to less energy and immunity. Not good.
Better Than an Escape
The Apostle Paul entreats the church in Ephesus, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit…” (Eph 5:18) So, how is being drunk (filled) with wine related to being filled with the Holy Spirit? Here’s how. Both represent ways of dealing with reality.
Drunkenness allows you to temporarily forget about reality. To disconnect, to have a brief respite from real causes of stress and strain at home, at work, with COVID-19 or politics, etc. The pressure isn’t imaginary. The pain isn’t make-believe. But this way of dealing with reality (by temporary escape) doesn’t work. In the short run, it can be dangerous and self-destructive. In the long run, you’ll be even more tired, unhealthy, and your troubles won’t be any better! Dealing with reality by drinking is like paying for one credit card debt with another credit card. You’re just kicking the problem further down the road.
Being filled with the Spirit is the opposite of this. The Holy Spirit allows you to live in reality. But not in a way that leaves you hopeless or helpless! The Spirit opens your eyes to see reality through the redemptive lens of the gospel. To see that this world (and your life) is a broken and messed up place — full of heartache and injustice with all sorts of (appropriate!) causes for anxiety and depression. But the Holy Spirit is the power and presence of God in the world. By the power of the Spirit, we can be made alive in Christ. And by the truth of God’s Word and the power of the Spirit, we can have the faith to see that God is doing something about all this heartbreaking mess. That God is bringing redemption and healing and new creation and the light of truth into the darkness of reality.
This is why Paul goes on in Ephesians 5:19-20, saying instead, “…speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Worship, singing, and expressing gratitude with other believers (not alone in isolation), these are vital practices for the Christian life. Especially when we feel the desire to hit the eject button and find some sort of escape.
The truth is that this world will one day come to an end. And Jesus will wipe every tear from our eyes. “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:4). But until that day, and especially during this uniquely stressful Christmas season, we have everything we need to endure and have joy and find peace and so much more in Christ.
Don’t run from reality, as painful and stressful as it can be at times! Embrace reality by the power of the Spirit and the truth of the Gospel. Remind yourself of what’s true. Take shelter in the Rock. You’ll find the well of heavenly resources runs far deeper and is far better and more life-giving than any worldly escape. Remember what Jesus said. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). Amen. Come quickly, Lord.
*This article addresses serious emotional issues. If you or a loved one is in immediate danger, please call 911. If you are struggling and need help, please let us know.