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A Theology of Hangovers

I'm writing this while nursing a hangover.

I better explain.

At our church's staff meeting this week, we were discussing how God gets our attention: how information translates into revelation, and we finally cry out, "I get it!" Susan, my assistant, made a stunning remark: "There is a little revelation in every hangover." Susan knows this personally – she celebrated 7 years sobriety recently; and she knows it vocationally – she's been at the helm of our church's recovery ministries the past 3 years.

There is a little revelation in every hangover. There awaits every spending spree a bill to pay. There lies the back end of every wild party a mess to clean up. Built into every session of internet porn is a bitter aftertaste. Mixed in, at no extra charge, to every 12-pack of beer and every 26er of Vodka and every line of coke is a whirligig that spins you around and around and around until sky and earth and sea churn molten in your belly.

And when you hold the bill, or stoop to pick up the garbage, or turn off the computer, or step off the whirligig, a small revelation bursts on your awareness. It may come in the form of grief, or longing, or resolve. It may come in the form of burning anger or harrowing sadness or piercing clarity. But at that moment, if only for a moment, you realize, This isn't working. I can't keep doing this. Enough is enough.

That moment, alas, can come and go a dozen times, a hundred, before you ever actually do anything about it. But one day the weight of it nearly crushes you. All the little revelations accumulate into a truth so big, so inescapable, you must and you will obey it at all costs.

Are you nursing a bit of a hangover? It might not be alcohol-induced. Maybe's it's gossip-induced. Anger-induced. Pride-induced. Maybe it's from coveting, or envying, or self-pity. I'm using – you've figured this out by now – hangover in a very broad sense. I mean the downside of the upside, the sickening aftermath of what seemed like a good idea at the time, the unpleasant consequences of what was fun while it lasted.

I write this while nursing a hangover. Mine? It's induced by a habit I picked up way back and haven't broken yet: to hear criticism, and think the worse. To hear someone's unhappy, and conclude everyone is. To hear a single complaint, and add a chorus line. To race to worst case scenario on the strength of a mere shadow or rumor.

It's never got me anywhere. It's never proven to be the case. It takes a lot of energy. It saps my strength to actually deal with the problem.

But there's a little bit of revelation in every hangover, and I'm about done with this.

How's your hangover coming along?

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