I grew up not drinking tea or coffee because of religious convictions—a habit that ultimately stayed with me longer than those convictions! Over the course of the two years I spent as a Mormon missionary, I taught a number of people that (among other things) they should adopt the same convictions and also give up tea and coffee. One of the most interesting lessons on this subject I had was with Jonathan. At the time, I was assigned to the Latter-day Saint congregation in Renens, Switzerland, where Jonathan was attending university, probably at l’Université de Lausanne (though I can’t remember for sure); wherever he was attending school, it was relatively far form Ticino, the Italophone canton of Switzerland that he came from. My missionary colleague Matthew and I found his name on a list of people whom the missionaries in Renens used to teach and decided to knock on his door.
Jonathan was a future member of the Swiss Guard (the armed forces of the Vatican), which is to say that he was a dedicated Catholic who had no real interest in Mormonism. He was never a jerk about it—he welcomed our visits, was always friendly, and even shared with us some of the special chocolate that’s distributed to Swiss soldiers as part of their rations. Nonetheless, he knew theology and philosophy better than Matthew and I did, and he had no qualms about calling us out when our teachings and arguments didn’t make sense to him. On the day that we tried to teach him about the Latter-day Saint health code that forbids tea and coffee consumption, I tried to follow the advice of our missionary manual by sharing a personal experience about how that health code had brought blessings in my life.
When I was a teenager, I had competed (and done pretty well) on my high school’s speech and debate team. Our Saturday morning competitions often involved driving halfway across Kentucky, which meant waking up way too early and—for most of the team—bringing along or picking up some coffee so that we would be at least somewhat awake by the time our competition rounds started. I explained to Jonathan that even though I never drank coffee, I outperformed most of my teammates who did; by my logic, this was evidence of divine support in exchange for obedience to divine law. I don’t remember the exact words of his response, but it went something like this: “What if you were just better than your teammates?” I can’t say for sure how I responded at the time, but with 15 years of distance, Jonathan’s answer seems so simple and efficient. What if it had nothing to do with coffee or with divine (dis)approval?
I still have religious convictions, but these days, they’re a lot more complicated. I’m not really sure whether there is a God, and if there is, I’m doubtful that they put high priority on tea and coffee. What I am sure of is that I’m in a period of my life where I just. can’t. seem. to. get. enough. sleep. I don’t know if it’s age, parenthood, or something else, but my days of waking up way too early, grabbing some uneven sleep on a school bus, and then powering my way through a speech and debate competition are long over. I need plenty of sleep, and if I don’t get it, my basic functionality and mental health are not at peak performance. Exercise usually helps me get higher quality sleep, but it sometimes makes me even more tired, and I can’t seem to ever catch up. I got lots of sleep this weekend, but my body is still tired and begging me to finish this post and go to bed.
So, in the morning, I’m looking forward to a nice cup of tea. I picked up a new kind to try while visiting family this weekend, and I’m looking forward to adding it to the rotation of teas that help me set aside the tired and get through another day.
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