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Healthcare experts estimate that 80-90% of Americans are dependent on a chemical substance called trimethylxanthine. 

Most of us know it as caffeine. 

Botanists have long guessed that caffeine – which occurs naturally in the foliage of coffee trees, cacao beans, and several varieties of tea leaves – functions as a pesticide.  Its bitter taste seriously discourages leaf-munching insects. 

But what draws human beings to caffeine is its psycho-active properties – something that first grabbed the attention of Europeans less than 400 years ago.   

It’s hard to overstate the impact of the two new drinks that suddenly appeared on the Continent in the mid-1600’s.  Tea arrived from China and South Asia.  Coffee came via the Middle East and South America.  Both drinks required boiling water, which almost certainly saved hundreds of thousands of lives.  For centuries, Europeans had drunk beer and wine from dawn to dusk.  The alcohol kept them safe from polluted sources of water.  But myriads of people lived in a kind of never-ending stupor. 

Then came caffeine.  It was a miracle drug – a stimulant that brightened the eyes, sharpened the senses, and yielded a brief rush of happiness. 

Coffee seemed to be the perfect drink for the dawn of the Enlightenment.  The Age of Reason valued rationality and self-reliance.  What better way to kickstart some serious ruminating about the nature of the cosmos than a pot of java?  The French philosopher Voltaire is said to have slammed up to 72 cups a day – an amount strongly discouraged by healthcare professionals, not to mention air traffic controllers and brain surgeons. 

In his book Caffeine, Michael Pollan points out that trimethylxanthine – whether imbibed through Coca-Cola, Starbucks lattes, Lipton tea, dark chocolate, or shots of Five-Hour Energy – presents itself as the cure to the very crisis it creates. 

We feel sluggish without it.  But within 15 minutes of sipping that first cup of coffee, we sense that we’re once again ready to take on the day. 

Numerous studies (and centuries of human experience) have confirmed that caffeine can generate an artificial wakefulness.  In large amounts it interferes with the length and depth of human sleep.  In moderate amounts, however, caffeine clearly has positive health benefits.  It appears to bolster heart health and offers protection from several kinds of cancer.

It may well be that you’re enjoying a caffeinated beverage right now.  I stand with you.  Friends have suggested that I am singlehandedly sustaining the annual production quota for Diet Mountain Dew. 

Pollan points out that caffeine “doesn’t make us smarter, but it does make us faster.  Or at least it makes us think we are.”

And that’s the problem.  Caffeine isn’t just a stimulant that alters our consciousness.  It holds out the promise that just a little more will change our lives for the good.

Caffeine is now being added to certain brands of ice cream, waffles, chewing gum, and even clothing.  Marketers beg us to drink mass quantities of highly caffeinated energy drinks.  We’ll feel more excited.  We’ll get more done.  We’ll somehow cram 36 hours of productivity into 24 hours.  Caffeine Culture’s motto is carpe diem: Seize the Day.  Red Bull will help me keep pace with this crazy world. 

But there’s a better way to live.

We don’t have to seize the day.  We can receive the day. 

Instead of imagining each new morning as a wild beast that has to be wrestled to the ground through sheer force of will, we can welcome each 24 hours as a gift from God.  The day may not be easy.  But God will provide what we need.  We may not accomplish every item on our personal To-Do list.  But there will always be enough time to accomplish what’s on his To-Do list. 

The apostle Paul makes this counter-cultural statement: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.”  (I Thessalonians 4:11)

It’s hard to imagine a 21st century writer juxtaposing the words “ambition” and “quiet life.”  But Paul is calling us to push back against a world afflicted by hurry sickness. 

We can choose to go slower.  To be still and remember that God is God.  To seek a quieter, less frenzied existence. 

Each of which has the potential to gently transform our next coffee break.