I woke up hung-over. My memory of the night before was blurry. The worst part was that this was nothing new for me. It was a regular part of my life. Feeling guilty and nauseous was almost routine.
As I stumbled through my apartment, I came across a Hoboken Grace card and granola bar that someone had handed me at the PATH a few weeks before. With only half of my brain awake, I somehow made the best decision of my life. I decided then and there to see what this church thing was all about. That decision changed everything.
I threw myself into life at Hoboken Grace. I joined a dinner group, served as a greeter, took the step of baptism and became best friends with a girl who dedicated an insane amount of time and energy to help me grow in every area of life.
But even as I took these steps, the tension between this new direction I wanted to take and my lifestyle was growing unbearable.
I was still making really unhealthy decisions. And I no longer felt like those decisions were who I was. Being hung-over and filled with regret never feels good, but if you do it long enough you get used to it. It just becomes a part of your life. But now that I had made the decision to follow Christ, I had people in my life challenging me — You are better than that, Rachel! This isn’t who you are. This isn’t what God wants for your life. Life can be so much more joyful.
When I met with Pastor Chris and shared all my “stuff,” he just had one thing to say — “Why don’t you try not drinking for awhile?” I think I laughed out loud. I told him that was crazy, I told him I would have no friends and nothing to do. He just looked at me and said, “Why not give it a try? What do you have to lose?” As the words sank in, he challenged me to not drink for 40 days. I didn’t really believe it would work. But he had a point: What did I have to lose?
And then something amazing happened. During those 40 days I experienced life with no hangovers and no new regret. I felt GREAT. I began to learn how to live my life without drugs, alcohol and guys. During those 40 days I learned that I couldn’t put myself back in the same situations and expect to succeed.
It was then that I stumbled across a podcast called “Guardrails.” The subtitle mentioned putting boundaries in areas of your life to protect you from disaster. This was clearly for me. As I listened to the series, I knew that I had to start putting up guardrails in my life when it came to partying. Getting drunk wasn’t the only issue; it was what that led me to do. It led me to do things that I would never do sober. It led to disaster.
Putting up guardrails in my life wasn’t a one-step process. It was messy and hard work. As I moved through those 40 days (and the coming years) I learned how to put boundaries in place to keep me safe. At first, my guardrails around drinking were really intense. But that’s exactly what I needed in that season. Going to bars was out of the question, because I had zero self-control.
Over the past seven years, those guardrails have been adjusted, but I still have guardrails. And all of my close friends know this about me, so there is always accountability. I need accountability in my life. I think we all do. It’s humbling and sometimes annoying, but if it helps me make better decisions and leads to a fuller and more joyful life, it’s absolutely worth it.
Guys were the other area in my life where I needed guardrails to keep me safe. I remember laughing hysterically when my friend asked me to trust God and not have sex until I was married. REALLY?! That ship had sailed. It was too late to make that decision now, right? The whole conversation just seemed ridiculous.
I was wrong again. As I began to put guardrails in my life around my relationships with guys, I began to experience a better life. I don’t think I realized just how much pain I was causing myself until I experienced life without it. I also learned a lot about myself. I saw just how much of my value I was placing in relationships. When I didn’t have that anymore, it left a gaping hole, and I had to learn how to go to God with that emptiness and ask Him to help me.
That’s the thing with guardrails; you can put them in place and have accountability partners, but you still need God. I have never seen God work so clearly in my life than when I come to Him in these situations — “God, I know that this is what you want in my life, and I’m trying to do the right thing, but can you help me make the right decisions?” He has come through every time.
I will always have guardrails in my life. The boundaries I need will shift, but there will always be something —something that promises fun and excitement, but never delivers and will leave me feeling more empty inside. God tells us what leads to life and what leads to death. The question is whether or not we believe Him, and if we believe Him, what are we going to do about it?