When you have to go to great lengths to hide a habit, does that mean it’s a sin? I never thought much about it until I decided I wanted a cigarette late one night, long after my husband had gone to bed. I would have wandered outside to puff away, but I was afraid he would hear the creaking of the door. Instead, I huddled alongside the stove, blowing my smoke into the exhaust fan, dropping my ashes into a Styrofoam cup filled with water.
It’s not that I don’t know what a gross habit it is. I don’t enjoy the smell or the taste. I even have to limit my smoking due to migraine headaches. I know it makes me look cheap, and that people question my faith when they see me with a cigarette perched between my fingers. There is seemingly no positive reason to smoke. With all the negatives lined up like cancerous ducks in a row, you would think it would be enough to make me stop.
So what has been holding me back?
When I was a student at a small Christian university in Tennessee, I rebelled in every way. I actively sought out new ways to get in trouble. It was my first time away from my folks, and it was my first time alone in such a massive city. I knew very few people and was going through some personal problems. By day, I was attending chapel and taking notes in my Bible classes. By night, I was drinking, surrendering myself to guys and doing my best to “live it up” … or so I thought.
I suppose I thought this was how artists were supposed to live. After all, I was an aspiring songwriter living in Nashville. It seemed the more hardcore you were, the more success you found. No doubt there were plenty of people around me living that way. In many cases, it didn’t matter if you were a Christian or not—everyone had a reputation to maintain.
But now I’m in my mid-20s. I don’t drink, party or play in a band anymore. I have no more musical aspirations to speak of. I’m married to a man I adore, who adores Jesus Christ. God has changed my life and given me peace.
I just can’t shake this smoking problem.
I think I’ve figured out the problem. While I know my Nashville days are far behind me, it will always be a little fantasy of mine. Part of me will always wish I had further pursued my dream of becoming a well-respected songwriter. As a result, I think I’m hanging on to my one last spurt of rebellion for dear life. It allows me to think of myself as thick-skinned and unafraid.
I’ve always been afraid of the Christian women who seem to have their lives together. You know the ones I mean. They’re the ones home schooling their five children, signing up for all the potluck dinners, leading Bible studies in their immaculate living rooms. They seem perfectly polished, whereas I am more than a bit rough around the edges. Truthfully, I envy them. I want what they have. I want God to make me into one of these women, because that is what I admire. But I am scared that I will fail at it, or that I won’t live up to some invisible standard that I wrestle with in my own mind.
I am afraid that by giving up my one last rebellion and turning the reins over to God, I will be somehow exposed. I will be forced to face the demons that do their best to wriggle into the areas of my spirit that I don’t guard as closely as I should. I will be compelled to deal with a past that I would prefer to forget, but won’t let me.
It would be easier if my smoking sin were just a way to relax, or a physical addiction. Instead, it is a mental addiction, a spiritual crutch, one more wall to place between myself and the Father I know loves me. It is, most of all, an illustration of just how Satan can take something so small and turn it into such a huge stumbling block … if we let him.
So when I finally throw away that last pack and declare myself a nonsmoker at last, it will be because I’m ready to let God work amidst the scratches and scars on my heart, not because the smell got to me or because I was tired of a simple cold turning into bronchitis all the time. And, I am sure what seems to be a huge stumbling block today will seem like a tiny bump in the road tomorrow.[Julie Anne Fidler is a writer from Pennsylvania who is wrestling with her faith.]
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