Last week, I did a stupid thing: I gave up coffee. I know. Spare me the chastisement. Like I said, it was stupid—downright nutty really. But I wanted to see if I could do it.
Going in to my little experiment, my main concern was how I’d cope with the withdrawal symptoms. I warned editors not to expect much from me for a week or two.
As it turns out, those warnings weren’t necessary. I was perfectly okay…physically at least. No mood swings, no foggy brain, and only one, tiny, barely noticeable headache. I wrote just fine. And (surprisingly) no mortal sins were committed. Sure, I was tired, but I’ve been tired for weeks.
Perhaps, eventually, the exhaustion would have gone away. But, I didn’t stick with it long enough to find out.
Because giving up coffee made me sad.
Every morning for the past 13 or so years, I’ve begun my day with a cup of coffee, a Rosary, and a chat with Jesus. It’s my favorite part of every day. The house is quiet, the world outside asleep, and the day itself full of promise. No regrets weigh on me at 5:15 in the morning.
I’ve never taken these little coffee hours for granted. They’re precious to me. And when travel or emergencies interfere with them, I feel the loss.
Now, during my week without coffee I still had my morning chats with Jesus and Mary. But it just wasn’t the same. I missed my coffee. I missed receiving it as a little gift from God at the start of every day— as a reminder of how much he loves me, how abundant his grace is, and how gratuitously he bestows that grace on me.
For years, I’ve seen coffee as such and thanked God accordingly. Coffee, unfailingly, has a place in my daily litany of gratitude. Through it, God has cheered me, comforted me, and consoled me. It’s not the coffee that does that, of course; it’s him. But the coffee is the means by which he accomplishes all that cheering, comforting, and consoling. It’s the matter through which he works.
In a sense, coffee functions as a kind of secular sacramental in my life; it’s a little conduit of grace that helps me understand God’s love more fully and love him more deeply in return.
Which is why giving up that coffee felt so very wrong. It felt like I was turning off one of the spigots through which God’s grace flows to me, like I was saying No to one of the ordinary but blessed ways he loves me and demonstrates his goodness.
And I need those ordinary ways. I need constant little reminders that life is good, that the foundation of the world is love, and that beautiful is the natural shape of creation.
Those truths can be incredibly difficult to remember in this vale of tears, where countless sacrifices must be made and innumerable heartbreaks must be endured. There’s no way around that. Sin—Original or otherwise—makes it so.
But that’s why God showers us with the little blessings. There is a preponderance of them in his Creation. The world teams with bits of beauty, goodness, and love. Some of those bits have the weight of a feather, but add them all up, and together, they outweigh the tears.
The trick is learning to see those bits. The bad looms large in this life. We don’t have to look for it. We do sometimes have to look for the good. We have to develop the habit of seeing the stuff of the everyday—coffee and wine, cheeseburgers and dark chocolate, roses that bloom in the snow, old books scattered about a room, the smell of a baby after their bath, and the twilight blue of the sky at night—as signs of God’s goodness and love.
None of this, of course, is to say that we shouldn’t ever make sacrifices of some of those signs. Creation is good. The Creator is better. Being able to voluntarily give up little goods like coffee or wine, every now and then, reminds us of that. It also helps foster all sorts of virtues, including discipline, fortitude, courage, and chastity. Heroic sanctity isn’t automatically infused by God when the need for it arises. It’s cultivated long beforehand. You learn how to lay down your life for others by first laying down the occasional cookie.
Moderation is also a good thing. Having one cup of coffee not two, sweets on the weekend but not during the week, or avoiding red meat save for special occasions, are all good ways to cultivate the virtue of temperance. Bodies are temples, and they deserve to be cared for properly—which includes neither overfeeding nor underfeeding them. Temperance helps us do the whole caring for the temple thing rightly.
The trick in this Catholic life of ours is to find the balance between appreciating God’s created gifts, making sacrifices of those same gifts, and cultivating temperance in our enjoyment of them.
That’s why this morning, I went and brewed myself a strong, hot, creamy latte.
The day may come when I really can’t drink coffee. My health could collapse and caffeine become my body’s undoing. A blight could strike the world’s coffee plantations. My income could dry up, leaving me with no extra cash for the extras. If and when those events transpire, I will give up my coffee. In the meantime, I’ll give up second cups of it. I’ll give up other things too: desserts during the week, meat on Fridays, and the wine red Stevie corduroys calling my name at Anthropologie.
But I will not give up the beans entirely. Nor do I think God wants me too. There’s just too much of his love in every cup for me to think so. Besides, there are other sacrifices he’s asking of me right now, sacrifices for which I need all the grace I can get, including the caffeinated kind.
Some might call my love for coffee (or attachment to it) worldly. But if it is, it’s worldly in the best sort of way, in the way that God intended us to be attached to his creation—seeing it as a gift from him and a reflection of him, using it well and wisely, with moderation and gratitude, and making our enjoyment of it a sacrifice of praise.
Which really, when it comes to coffee, is the only kind of sacrifice I ever hope to make again.