Why I Decaffeinated

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This time two weeks ago, if I had dropped dead, my body would have twitched for 72 hours before I could’ve been embalmed.

Last week I noted over on Twitter that I felt two golden tablets away from Mormonism. It’s not because I’m aspiring to rule my own planet or because I’ve added the Osmonds to my iPod. It’s because I’m doing what I never thought I’d do. I’m withdrawing from caffeine.

Lots of folks are asking why. Is it because I think caffeine is an “evil drug” that shouldn’t be used by Christians? Not at all. I think caffeine is a good drug. It is one of those blessed herbs of the field the Lord God declared to be “very good” (Gen. 1:29-30).

I don’t think there’s anything spiritually superior about being without caffeine or being with it, anymore than I think there’s anything superior about vegetarianism vs. carnivory (Rom. 14:2-5).

So why am I, a lover of all things coffee and Coke Zero, cutting back to almost nothing?

It’s simply because I didn’t know how much of it I was consuming. A friend asked me not long ago how much coffee and soft drinks I drank in a day. I sat down and recounted it all, starting with a full pot in the morning that I’d just drink without thinking about it being there. And that was just getting started. I hadn’t thought about it at all. It was just there, and I liked it, so I drank it, and slowly over time the amount ratcheted upward and upward.

Because I wasn’t mindful of how much caffeine I was consuming, I also wasn’t mindful of what it was doing. A little bit of lots of things are beneficial: a little bit of sleep, a little bit of work, a little bit of meat. But there are consequences that come with too much or too little of almost anything, consequences that ought to keep us on balance.

A friend asked me if I found myself irritable, especially in the evening. Yes, I remarked, I sometimes would think, as my kids bounded through the house, “Will you please just GET QUIET!”

He asked if I have trouble sleeping. You bet. Animals being tranquilized on “Animal Planet” drift easier into unconsciousness than I do.

He asked if I felt “crashed” and exhausted throughout the day, needing more caffeine to perk up and press on. Kind of.

The lynch-pin for me was irritability with my kids. That’s not the caffeine’s fault; it’s mine. But why would I give myself a stumbling block to raise my stress levels for something as (relatively) meaningless as coffee and Coke?

So last week I started backing down, little by little, my caffeine intake, until I’m down to two (or less) half-caf cups in the morning, and a green tea or two during the day. Yes, the first week or so I felt like I was in a haze, but, now, I feel incredibly energized. I don’t “crash.” And I don’t feel irritated with my kids at night.

I told my folks at the church Sunday, as I preached in a sweater, that I felt all calm and “Mr. Rogers”-like now, and that they could expect a trolley to go riding by on the platform at the end of my sermon.

So that’s why I’ve cut back on the caffeine. I don’t miss it (well, kind of). I’m writing this post partially to hold myself accountable, because I know I’ll be raring to fall off the wagon next week.

It might not be that that’s what’s best for you. Maybe you need as much (or more!) caffeine than you’re taking in now. I don’t know. Maybe your design will allow you to drink as much or more than I was drinking without it ever affecting you badly.

If so, I raise my mug of decaf in your honor. There’s nothing immoral about drinking coffee.

In my case, though, coffee was making it harder for me to be loving. The amount I was consuming was enabling my flesh to do what it wants anyway, to be “irritable or resentful” (1 Cor. 13:5). I have enough trouble being “patient and kind” (1 Cor. 13:4) while fighting the world, the flesh, and the devil.

I didn’t need to fight caffeine too.

Only when we see how lost we are, we can find our way again. Only when we bury what’s dead can we experience life again. Only when we lose our religion can we be amazed by grace again.


About Russell Moore

Russell Moore is Editor in Chief of Christianity Today and is the author of the forthcoming book Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America (Penguin Random House).