Why I Quit Caffeine

I come from a long line of coffee-drinkers, which made it hard to quit caffeine.

My parents drank coffee with every meal and frequently in between. At age 16 I started drinking it too, following my mother’s advice to forego any sweetener. Coffee-drinking is a lifetime activity so its best to fend off those spoons-full of sugar.

The earthy aroma and flavor of coffee has provided my smell-track and taste-track for decades. The activity of brewing and drinking coffee has provided a rhythm. Long ago I was a waitress pouring coffee at breakfast restaurants. For decades I’ve been a pastor sipping coffee at kitchen tables. Now I’ve become a writer with a cup perpetually cooling beside me.

Erratic Heartbeats

Only recently did I notice that my heartbeat has become erratic at times. It speeds up for no apparent reason and sends a tingling sensation down both arms. It scares me. I looked up the symptoms of heart attack. Just a few minutes on WebMD confirmed what I suspected — that a doctor would ask about my caffeine consumption.

Would I tell my doctor the truth? If I did, I knew what she would say. So I decided to take her unspoken advice preemptively. On a Saturday morning I quit caffeine cold-turkey.

The caffeine-withdrawal headaches weren’t as bad as I recalled them from my pregnancies — those two caffeine-less stretches that tested how much I loved my unborn children. This time around I was able to take painkillers. I was pleasantly surprised that I only needed them a few times those first two weeks. I did, however, find myself napping in the late afternoons. I simply didn’t have my Friend to convince me to keep going. Most importantly however, there was an immediate, and noticeable, reduction in episodes of heart palpitations.

Early Results after I Quit Caffeine

Almost six weeks later, I can say that I’m officially decaffeinated. I do drink three cups of decaf throughout the morning, so a purist might quibble with me. (If you’re a purist please do not contact me.)

But here’s what’s interesting: I still get heart palpitations, though less often, and I’ve realized that they’re my body’s way of saying: I’m upset and/or anxious. Having stripped away the defense of caffeine, I hear the message more clearly. (A week later I quite drinking alcohol as well!)

Unfortunately, the news cycle of the past 10 days has been particularly full of upsetting and anxiety-producing events — the evidence of collusion with Russia, the threat of nuclear war with North Korea, the intentional undermining of healthcare under the Affordable Care Act, the chaos in Venezuela — all trumped by Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists terrorizing Charlottesville in my own state of Virginia. Each event is palpitation-worthy.

Caffeinating to Write a Sermon

As a pastor who prizes leadership, the absolute moral vacuum from our nation’s highest offices — to say nothing of the president’s evangelical advisors — has been deeply upsetting. When authority structures fail, the people must rise up. And so it is happening –people everywhere are rising to the occasion and I’m grateful for their voices and their activism. We all need to harness our moral courage and stand up.

Right now I’m going to pour my second cup of decaf and write a sermon on Matthew 15 — Jesus and the Canaanite woman. Remember her? She was the person Jesus felt he could disregard because she was the other — until she pierced that facade. She called him to go beyond his comfort zone, and to mature in his mission and sense of himself. We don’t know what tone she used, but we know her words were skillful. We know she was driven by her love for her daughter. Prophetic words from an outsider, and a Lord who could listen and hear. That oughta preach.

What work will you do today? Will you need caffeine to do it? No judgment here!


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