A Good Excuse

by Sian Bessey

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    I discovered that the Word of Wisdom is a shield, not a roadblock.

    I grew up in a small village on the island of Anglesey in north Wales. As a teenager I faced a problem that affects most LDS young people in Britain. Almost all social life revolves around the pubs.

    There is no straightforward solution to whether LDS youth should go to pubs. A pub, unlike the bars of most other countries, attracts people of all ages and all walks of life. It is a social gathering place. I remember feeling torn when close friends would invite me to parties at the local pub. I wanted them to know that I valued their friendship and appreciated them for wanting to involve me in their plans. However, the fact remained that I didn’t feel comfortable in pubs. On the few occasions that I went I always had the scriptures about shunning the appearance of evil or standing in holy places spinning around in my head. At the risk of ostracising my friends, I usually stayed at home.

    This issue came to a head when my best friend, Elizabeth, turned 18 and invited me to her birthday party. It was to be held at a nearby pub. My friends were anxious that I go, although they knew that I would not join them in drinking alcohol. I decided that the only way that I could know what I should do was through prayer. It took me some time on my knees before I received a positive confirmation. I told Elizabeth that I would go for a short while and arranged with my father to take me and to pick me up half an hour later. That way I could show Elizabeth that her friendship and her birthday were important to me, but then I would not feel obliged to stay long in an environment where I felt so out of place.

    Once the decision was made, the week sped by and before I knew it my father was dropping me off outside the heavy doors of “The Gazelle.” The lights glowed and reflected off the sparkling glasses along the length of the bar. A fire roared in the large grate, and scattered around the room were small round tables with their accompanying chairs. Paintings of fox hunts hung on the walls. The air was heavy with the smell of cigarette smoke and alcohol.

    As I hesitated in the doorway, I heard a familiar voice. “Sian, you came!”

    I turned to see my friends Nia and David. “Come on,” Nia encouraged me, “Elizabeth is over here. I know she’ll want to see you.” She led the way across the room towards a small group of people.

    I was made to feel welcome. I gave my gift to Elizabeth, and I knew she realized that I was there because I cared about her. I spoke to most of the people there before finding a quiet chair in the corner where I sat with a glass of orange juice on the table in front of me. I watched those around me. It saddened me to see some of my friends already showing signs of having drunk too much. It seemed so pointless and such an artificial way to have a “good” time.

    I was so consumed with my own thoughts, I was not aware of Andrew’s approach until he spoke. “Are you glad you came, Sian?” he asked as he sat beside me.

    I hesitated for a second before answering.

    “If by coming I have shown my friends that I value their friendship, then yes, I’m glad I came.”

    “But you’re not very comfortable here, are you?”

    I knew Andrew well enough to be honest with him. “No,” I said, “I guess it’s always hard to be in a situation where you are different from everyone else.”

    “But it’s not so hard that you would change your stand on drinking and join us all?” There was sadness in his voice as he spoke.

    I felt my heart begin to burn. “No, Andrew, deep down I know that there is a God who loves me and doesn’t want me hurt. Alcohol can hurt.”

    “You’re so lucky,” Andrew sighed.

    I looked at him, startled and said, “You don’t have to drink either.”

    “That’s easy to say,” he replied, “but I don’t have a good excuse not to. It may be hard for you to understand.” He continued to gaze into the frothy pint of beer in his hand. “If I refuse to drink the others will give me a hard time. They’ll heckle me about being chicken or not man enough. I don’t have any excuse to give them other than the fact that I don’t feel like drinking—and that’s not good enough for them. Everyone knows that you don’t drink because you’re a Mormon. They don’t understand it, but they accept it as something you live by. Most people admire you for taking a stand. I don’t have any religious reasons not to drink, so everyone expects me to.” He shrugged his shoulders and grinned. A mask of nonchalance quickly covered the inner feelings he had briefly exposed.

    “Maybe I just lack your strength of character,” he teased. Then he stood, raised his glass to me in salute and turned to walk away. Feeling hopeless, I watched him go.

    I glanced at my watch and saw that my designated half hour was over. I gathered my coat, signaled my goodbye to Elizabeth who stood a few yards off. I looked for Andrew, but he was lost in the crowd, so I left quietly.

    As I opened the pub door, a wave of cold, fresh air swept over me. I breathed deeply, then glanced around. Sure enough, parked not more than ten yards away was my father. I ran to the car and jumped in.

    I leaned over and gave my dad a hug. He asked me how the evening had gone. I sat back in my seat and recounted my experience. A heavenly spirit filled the car as I told him what I had learned.

    My conversation with Andrew had helped me to see that commandments are blessings, not obstacles. I knew that the Word of Wisdom was given for our own good, but when I went to Elizabeth’s party that night, I was struggling with the idea that it was a barrier between me and my friends. Then I talked to Andrew and discovered that there are others, perhaps many others, who wish they had such commandments to guide them.

    Now I know that if I ever struggle to see the reasons for a specific commandment, I will use it as a good excuse to do what is right until my faith and understanding increase.

    Photography by John Luke