I am 22. She said she was 27. Something about working for a marketing firm. But I’m not sure. The bar was more than alive—it pulsated with bodies, sweaty and hot and waiting in anticipation for someone to take them home. Unfortunately, that someone often came down to anyone. I was rapidly becoming that anyone.
She said her name was Elise. A beautiful name I’d heard only a few times before. I asked her how to spell it twice as I fumbled on the keypad of my cell phone to type in her name under “contacts.” Chalk up another one.
She was cute. Very cute, actually. Blonde, confident and with green eyes that thrived within the darkness of the bar. The Blue Spark attracted mainly college students. Lots of wells, $2 Coronas and dirty martinis. And great music, too—an eclectic mix of Maroon 5, Bob Marley, Tom Petty and most any group worthy of being played at high volumes to a fairly intoxicated crowd.
Black and white prints covered the walls. Sinatra sat poised across from the Statue of Liberty holding a cigar. The split-level room funneled people along the bar and back toward red, plush booths with a solitary light illuminating each tabletop.
She took a sip of her Long Island Ice Tea. Then another one. I could tell she was looking for something to say, so I offered up something about traveling. Relieved at a topic at least for the moment, she talked about being in Barcelona last summer. She was there doing an independent study and some freelance photography work.
Four drinks and 30 minutes later, we had moved to a secluded booth in the corner, where we both sat on one side of the table, legs pressed firmly against one another’s and with my arm casually relaxing across the back of the seat behind her head. She said something about being ready to go home. And wanting to know if I’d like to be there with her. This time, it wasn’t too difficult to hear her. Her lips were just a breath away from mine.
I set my drink down slowly. Congratulations, I thought to myself. I’ve done it again. I’ve talked my way into a bed in a house where I never even should have knocked on the door …
I find it somewhat peculiar when words from Scripture or a phrase from a sermon at church suddenly illuminate in my mind in a setting such as The Blue Spark. The irony of hearing the Apostle Paul’s words in my head as I order up another round of drinks for the table is always a momentary oddity. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). More simply put, in Eugene Peterson’s The Message, “What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise.” Paul’s words about his struggles with sin perfectly echo the frustrations about the sin I clash with in my own life.
Perhaps what makes it so frustrating is that these are not situations I naïvely stumble into. I practically set up the moment and walk right into it. My pastor once told our church that our prayer should not be that we don’t fall into temptation and sin. Our prayer should be that we don’t walk into temptation.
Looking back on that night at The Blue Spark, and other similar nights, it’s clearly more than ironic that these verses arrive at such opportune moments in life. The smirk quickly vanishes after the thought of remembering last Sunday’s message at church while holding a tequila shot in one hand and a lime in the other. Thoughts of living as I should—a life that is righteous and pure—penetrate my thinking for a purpose. They are reminders that I have been—we have been—called to live a life greater than our sin.
It is for these moments and more that we have been given God’s Word and the Holy Spirit. It is for these moments that we have the Spirit, living within us, working to guide us. And more than this, God’s Spirit lives within us to empower us. The Holy Spirit is more than just a cricket of a conscience, more than just a divine stop sign on the road to temptation. We sometimes forget that the Spirit is alive and active within us. It is through God’s power that we are truly “more than conquerors.” Because we are sinful creatures, the effects of sin are still present, but we are no longer under its authority. The final victory is won. For we, Paul said, “… are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit …” (Romans 8:9).
And if the final victory is won—if God’s grace is sure—why do we let ourselves chase after a relationship that merely feigns true love? Why then, would we forfeit a relationship that is pure and wholly good for one that is little more than a poor imitation of what we truly want?
The lyrics from a friend’s song reveal the intent: I wanted to believe that it was real/ Thinking it was the way love feels/ Two lost souls seeking a dream/ Let’s pretend it’s you and its me … It’s easy to pretend or to settle when you’re alone, but I’ve come to learn that living in Christ’s perfect love is the only way to seek true love with someone else …
The bartender shouted out last call. The crowd had thinned, but not so much that the bar still didn’t have a horde of people clamoring for one more drink. I smiled at her. She smiled back expectantly. I thanked her for the wonderful evening and said I should go back to my house. She looked disappointed at first. A little confused—an awkward silence, something we hadn’t experienced since the beginning of our night, hung low over the table. But then she smiled again. We promised to call each other.
And then we both left, content that neither of us had become just anyone.
[Ryan Moede is a journalism major at Whitworth College in Spokane, Wash.]
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