Moderation in all Things?

2 Corinthians 5:6-17

I just got back from a week of backpacking with Wilderness Trail – an experience that always teaches me things.  I learn things about creation, like:  you can use the bark of a birch tree as kindling to start a fire.  I learn things about God, like:  that “peace that passes understanding” is a real thing, evidenced by feeling strangely peaceful while your stuff is getting soaked in a rainstorm.  And I learn things about myself, like:

I’m too attached to my phone.

This hit me on the first day.  We got to our first intersection, which meant we’d stand around for just a few moments getting out water bottles and waiting on each other.  Recognizing that 60 seconds of lag time, I began to move my arm toward my back right pocket.

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In the middle of the wilderness, I was reaching for my non-existent phone.

I made that ridiculous, almost-unconscious move for my phone a couple times on the first day.  But after that the backpacking experience worked its magic.  My mind let go of my cell phone (and everything else) and thought mostly about the uphill climb or the wonder of fireflies or how good mac-n-cheese can taste when you’re really hungry.  I laughed and struggled and reflected with the amazing youth and adults in our group.  For the better part of a week, I was mostly uncomfortable but also mostly peaceful and content.

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On Friday morning we loaded up our van and headed back into civilization.  My phone sprung back to life as we returned to cell service.  Little red dots told me I had texts and emails and voicemails and Facebook alerts and so much more waiting for me.

I was riding, so the phone was free to access.  “I’ll just respond to the texts,” I first told myself.  And then, a few minutes later:  “I’ll just share a picture from the week.”  And then:  “I’ll just see what’s on sale on Amazon.”  “I’ll just scroll Instagram for a few minutes.”  “I’ll just…”

I was back to filling the lag time with my phone.  I couldn’t seem to put it down.  Not coincidentally, that content feeling was rapidly fading.  I seemed to have a problem, and the solution was clear:

I need to get rid of my phone.

Well… that’s tricky, isn’t it?  There are really good things about a phone.  I use it to FaceTime my dad on Father’s Day.  It reminds me about tasks and appointments.  It takes pictures of sweet moments.  It holds a kind of mind-boggling amount of information.  My phone is a pretty powerful tool that I don’t want to get rid of entirely… but I do want to use it more carefully.

On this Father’s Day, my mind goes to a mantra my parents passed down to me:  “Moderation in all things.”  Most things in life are bad for us in excess.  Things like alcohol, exercise, TV, food, rest, smart phones – they are good in appropriate doses but toxic when we over-indulge them.  So we Wood children were frequently reminded to seek balance, not extremes.

This expression – “moderation in all things” – isn’t found in Scripture… but it does support a Scriptural approach to the Way of Christ.  Take today’s passage from 2 Corinthians; Paul is teaching them that Christ’s Way looks like:

  • Walking by faith, not by sight.
  • Making it our aim to please Christ wherever we are.
  • Being controlled by the love of Christ.
  • Becoming a new creation in Christ.

Notice that these are not “always this” and “never that” statements.  Instead, they lead us down a winding path of love that may well include cell phones and ice cream and alcohol and rest… in appropriate doses, because we are ultimately controlled by the love of Christ.  Anything that occurs in excess in our lives is likely to be in control, whether we realize it or not – like my phone having the power to draw my hand to my hip in the middle of the wilderness.

Moderation is the decision to moderate things – to set boundaries on them, to keep them in their place.  It’s important… but hard.  Much easier to go completely without than to use something responsibly.  With that in mind, today I want to offer you two tools toward moderation that come from the backpacking experience.  Consider this like a shortcut – instead of having to go into the woods for a week, make space for these two things in your civilized life:

Reflection and abstention. 

Let’s start with reflection.  That was the gift I got on trail – to notice an issue with my phone, and then have the time and space to think about the root of that issue.  To find that space in our everyday lives, we might ask ourselves five short questions about our excessive activities:  Who? What? When? Where? Why?  These questions can get at the root of what something means to us – and whether it has too much control.

Let’s say junk food is something you want to reflect on.  Using these short questions, you’d ask yourself:  Who do I eat junk food with?  What kind of junk food am I eating, and how much?  When and where do I eat this kind of food?  Why do I eat food that isn’t good for me?  Sometimes junk food is good (great, even!), but not if it’s ruling your life.  One or more of your answers might give you pause; I think the “why” is particularly telling if your answer is along the lines of, “Because I’m bored,” or, “Because I’m worried.”

If your reflection reveals the need for moderation, you can then try the second practice that backpacking offers:  abstention.

This might seem counter-intuitive; after all, I’m advocating for moderation.  But taking a complete break from something can serve as a reset.  We’re reminded that we can live without that thing, or forced to address the real issue (like boredom or anxiety) in a different way.

If technology is your issue, I think Sabbath – Sunday for most of us – offers a great chance for a break.  You might commit to turning off all screens for most of the afternoon, forcing yourself to spend more time in thought-strengthening quiet or relationship-building conversation.

There may be something else that troubles you, something that needs more time for a reset.  In that case, you might go a week without sweets, or a month without alcohol or watching the news.  Those longer breaks can help us get perspective on why we think we “need” them and return to the activity… in moderation

Reflection and abstention – and ultimately, moderation.  Moderation in all things.

Well… not all things. 

Christ is the one thing we can’t get enough of.  I want to unconsciously reach for Christ like I do for my phone.  I want to turn to Christ when I’m bored or lonely or worried.  Christ is who I want to become like.  Christ is who I want to control my life – Christ, and nothing else.

So may you seek moderation in all things in this life, save one.  May you find Christ in beautiful abundance.

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