I’ve been meaning to quit smoking. The attempts started about six months ago. I was in Nepal, carefree and smoker-friendly. (Traveling to other countries and exploring new places always seem a bit more adventurous when you smoke but don’t ask me why.) A friend of mine, who takes his actions seriously and lives about as straight as an arrow, desperately wanted me to quit this filthy little habit. He said, “Heather, if I smoke a cigarette will you quit?” And I whimsically said “yes.” He smoked, I laughed, and then I broke the promise that night.
I got into an argument the other night with my family over poverty, the evils of capitalism, and what being a Christian really meant. I’ll tell you this: I was mean and judgmental and lacked any grace or compassion throughout the conversation, mostly because I was on edge. I had only one cigarette that day. I was anxious and moody and took it out on my family.
I made out with a boy the other night. I really shouldn’t have. I drank too much champagne. Blame it on that. I left his house feeling nothing. Absolutely nothing. This scared me a little bit. Mostly because I have always felt that kissing and all things intimate remain sacred. And here I was desecrating my own values.
I like expensive clothing. I like getting my nails done. I like writing while smoking, reading while smoking, enjoying company while smoking. I have a caffeine addiction and I like making money. I like nice houses, good food and cooking. I like feeling like I have my life together.
While I love all the aforementioned things, I also value justice and the dignity of every human individual. I long for equality among men and women. I condemn sweatshops and modern slavery and human trafficking. I hate greed, over-consumption and land development. I cry when polar bears die because of the effects of global warming and I cringe when yet another transnational corporation pumps money into a political campaign. I have compassion for heroin addicts, alcoholics and the homeless. I believe in affordable housing and health care coverage for all. I believe that everyone should have access to transportation, education and healthy food. I believe in Love, above all else, and I hope for the kingdom of God.
I am a walking contradiction.
Now that this sounds like a personal ad in the Penny Saver, I’d like to share a story from a TV show I’ve recently watched (please don’t judge me too harshly). I’ve been following a show called Men In Trees. I’ll spare you the details of a mediocre drama based in Anchorage, Alask. There is, however, this one scene that I can’t get out of my mind as I write this. Two of the characters in the show had been dating for a while. The man was a pastor of the local church in town. The woman was a single mother who worked at the local bar. Before the job at the bar, this woman had engaged in prostitution in order to provide for her son. But the couple loved each other and they wanted to make their relationship work, regardless of their pasts.
The pastor had taken vows to not have sex until he was married. But after a confrontation with a parishioner, the pastor decided to stop preaching. The couple had abstained from having sex for so long and in this one heated moment, they decided to sleep together. The next morning the pastor regretted his decision, realizing that his vows were something he deeply cherished, regardless of whether he was shepherding a flock or not. So he left the woman, making her feel terrible, as though she had yet again desecrated a rather sacred act. She showed up at his house, later in the show, standing in the rain. She was crying, shouting at this pastor that if God could not forgive this man for what he did, breaking his vows, then where did that leave her? And she shouted up at the sky, in the rain, asking for forgiveness.
This man, this lover of God, realized that forgiveness and grace were meant to cover a multitude of sins, not just his own. He was forced to stop looking at his own sin and realize that he was no better and no worse than this woman in front of him. And if he truly believed that she could be forgiven, so could he, even amidst the most amazing hypocrisy anyone finds themselves living.
That moment spoke to me. How do we learn to love ourselves and learn to love others? Well, first we start by quitting smoking. And then we forgive ourselves for everything we are or we aren’t. We take our eyes off ourselves, for just a second, and look at the woman standing in the rain. We remember that God’s grace and forgiveness doesn’t just apply to the mega-sinners. It applies to every single one of us, even the hypocrites. We begin to be honest with ourselves about who we are. Bob Dylan said something to the effect that life is always about becoming. I may be all those things I listed earlier, but tomorrow I might be a little different. And that’s because I was honest with where I am at right now.
And that’s why I decided to share it. I want to encourage you to take a good look in the mirror and realize that everyone has dealt with the darkness. But there is a Hope and a Light. Anne Lamott said that forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a different past. I think when we realize that there is forgiveness to be had and grace to be freely given as it has been received, we help usher in the Kingdom of God.
Let’s forgive ourselves and quit smoking, OK?