I was a child when I started hating cigarettes.
Blame my dad. His smoking habit clung to him like a dirty, old coat. He said he hated it, but the only thing that could stop him from puffing was dipping snuff. I found that equally disgusting.
Over time, my disgust with dad’s smoking habit turned into a disgust with anyone who smoked cigarettes. It only got worse in college when I became a neurotic, Bible-thumping church cop who gratuitously looked for reasons to condemn people to hell.
And cigarettes were a sure-fire sign of a person who was flirting with the flames of eternal damnation.
It wasn’t just cigarettes though. The list of no-nos grew with my zealotry and included overeating, drinking (alcohol or excessive caffeine), cursing, celebrating Halloween, watching movies, and kissing outside of marriage (yes, you read that correctly).
It was maddening, but it was my “relationship with God” – the Religion of No. Notably absent was much compassion or love for the people I was willing to dry roast in hell. My top concern was getting them converted, getting them to agree with me, getting them to come to my church.
In my junior year of college, I started a small group Bible study that met in a nursing facility. The idea was for us to have Bible study and prayer and then visit with the residents. It was only mildly popular with the college students at my church – you know, being in a nursing facility and all.
I’m sure things have changed now, but at the time, the nursing home had a smoking area inside. One day, I was standing a few feet from the smoking area talking to a couple of the members of my group. I saw a heavy-set, white-haired, disheveled old woman park her wheelchair in the smoking area and pull out a cigarette.
I felt an uncharacteristic surge of compassion and thought, You know, if I were stuck in a nursing facility, I would probably want to smoke too.
I carried on my conversation with my church friends, but I was distracted by the sight of the feeble old woman.
She managed to get an unlit cigarette between her quivering lips, but she was having trouble getting her lighter to do more than spark. And even when she got the lighter going, she couldn’t get her shaky hand to her lips in time to light up.
A part of me felt the woman was better off not smoking. But then my heart got in the way, aching as I watched the cigarette bob from the woman’s lips as she repeatedly failed to light it.
I abruptly ended the conversation with my friends and walked over to the woman, who was too focused on her cigarette to notice that I had approached.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” I said. “Do you need me to light that cigarette for you?”
“Yeah,” she said in a raspy voice.
I lifted the dying lighter, struck the flame, and lit the woman’s cigarette as it shook in her mouth. She thanked me, took a drag, and I walked away, dumbfounded by my own actions.
For a moment, I wondered if I should feel guilty for helping her smoke, but one thing kept me from it – and that was love.
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Good one josh. My 94 year old "Meme" still tells me that love covers a multitude of sin. We just love and The Lord does the rest. Thanks for sharing,again.
Nice article, Josh. I'm glad you aren't the Bible-thumping, person of your college years anymore. Don't get me wrong, we should all be passionate about the love of Christ, but as human beings, we are all judgmental of one another far more than we should be. I try to remember that no one walking this earth is perfect, and that Jesus voluntarily chose to hang out with the tax collectors and the Mary Magdalene's of the the world- not to condemn them to hell, but to show them the amazing love of the father through Him. I really think that so many people get so caught up in the "religious" aspect and want to eagerly point out how others are sinning and are doing wrong, that they forget what is really important- showing others Christ within us- through our love for one another and by His love within us. Btw, I feel the same way you do about cigarette smoke, but that something that compelled you do light hers was something greater than condemnation- it was love and compassion for another. God Bless friend.
Isn't it wonderful how our Heavenly Father gradually refines us into the people He wants us to be without our even being aware of how or when He is molding us. 🙂 It is only when we look back and see the transformation that we are amazed! 🙂
Josh, I remember feeling the same way about smoking and about smokers. Even though I tried it myself during my foolish college days. Then one day a pastor of mine said something that I use to this day. Smoking won't send you to hell, it'll just make you smell like you've been there.
I can relate! Great post.
This is a wonderful example of the guiding hand of The Holy Spirit! When God tells you to love someone, you just do. We should all be so blessed to have that kind of experience to remind of us of His love.
Good words, everyone. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
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