Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore, come out of them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; they I will welcome you, and I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” II Corinthians 6:16-18
In the last reflection we discussed how to create environments where it is safe and expected to be honest and vulnerable. One of the challenges to creating and maintaining these kind of environments is peer pressure to cross over boundaries. It seems that throughout life, there is a tension between identifying proper boundaries and then not falling to temptation to cross them. Over the next few reflections, we will discuss several boundaries that people will be tempted to cross. Today we will focus on drinking and drugs.
Through my ministry, I’ve watched lots of people go through high school and college. My teenage son is rapidly approaching these stages and it scares me. I’m scared for him. We’ve raised him with certain morals and encouraged him to maintain certain boundaries. But he (and many others) are about to run a gauntlet that will test and tempt what we’re raising him to know is right.
Drinking, drugs and vaping are high on the list. He knows that these things are wrong. We’ve talked about them a lot in our home. And yet, many of his peers will be into these things in high school and in college. While not every teen and young adult will fall into these things, they will ALL know people who will. There is no way that anyone gets through high school or college without being exposed to these things and people who are doing them.
Teens will have a hard time discerning what is right and wrong on their own. What will make it even harder is the pressure to do these things, and the consternation that will come if one doesn’t engage in them.
I remember back when I went to college in the early 1990s, that I felt pressured to drink. I had no experience drinking before college. I had a great respect for the law, which said people under 21 were not allowed to drink. So, I had a conflict. Virtually everyone was drinking, virtually everyone had a fake ID if they were under 21, and virtually everyone was drinking irresponsibly. Because I didn’t have anyone I could confide in about this subject, I waded very cautiously. And after some minimal experience decided that this was not for me. Sadly, that did cost me some friends. I might take a sip of something just to be social on a very rare occasion but I generally do not drink. And even now, I get occasional looks and comments like I’m doing something wrong.
For the teen who has gotten out of high school with little to no drinking experience, I almost feel sorry for them, because they are about to run a gauntlet that is going to challenge and pressure them to conform to some kind of college norm. Some will learn to manage appropriately. Others will make critical mistakes. Will any of them have a safe environment, especially in college, to talk about this?
Drugs are rampant just about everywhere it seems. Illegal drugs, prescription drugs, opioids, drugs are everywhere. People take drugs to get high, to sleep, to stay up, to escape, you name it. Because we don’t feel safe to be vulnerable or authentic or honest, there is a pressure to be someone that we are not, and drugs (and drinking) can aid in that.
And the temptations and pressures don’t end with college. There are plenty of adults who are abusing alcohol and drugs and pressuring others to do the same. There are plenty of people telling others about the dangers of alcohol and drugs, but are they lectures or dialogues? Are we providing safe spaces to talk about these things WITH our children, rather than only talking AT our children?
There are two reasons why we shouldn’t abuse alcohol and drugs, besides the fact that doing so isn’t healthy or in some cases isn’t legal. One reason is that using alcohol or drugs to alter our state of reality provides a commentary on our relationship with Christ. Imagine a group of friends get together—they can laugh, tell jokes, play a game, sing a song, watch a movie, eat great food, the list seems endless. When alcohol or drugs must be introduced into a situation to make it go, it is like saying to God, “It is not enough, all the talent and personality you’ve given us is not enough. We need more.” The second reason relates to God’s commandment to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. If one is drunk, or high, or hung over, and someone cries for help, and we cannot respond, then we are failing to love our neighbor, which is a sin. We are supposed to love our neighbor and be ready to render aid to our neighbor at all times.
There is nothing wrong with having a drink. As long as it’s not done excessively. There is nothing wrong with using medication under the direction of a doctor, but there certainly is something wrong with abusing medications.
We need to be talking about these kinds of boundaries, we need environments where it is safe to talk about them, we need courage to keep boundaries, and compassion and love to confront others who are stepping over boundaries and acting unsafe.
The next few reflections will examine other kinds of boundaries we should be setting and encouraging others to set as well.
Lord, You created us in Your image and likeness. Help us to see You in ourselves and in others. Help us to appreciate our unique talents and the talents of others. Help us to negotiate pressure to be things and do things that we know are wrong. Help us to know what is right and what is wrong. Give us strength to hold fast to what we believe, especially when we face peer pressure. Amen.
Define your boundaries and have the courage to stick with them!
The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! There you may find a database for past prayer team messages as well as books by Fr. Stavros and other information about his work and St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
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The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.