Ash Wednesday, March 6th, 2019

I remember giving up smoking for Lent in 2012. I had this plan, I was going to be a better steward of the temple bestowed upon me (my body) and take better care of myself. I was going to be kinder to people, as well. With my new-found faithful heart set on success, I ventured out into the world.

I was not kind. I was not happy. I was not even near holy.

Giving up cigarettes for Lent (for me) was perhaps the one of the greatest mistakes I’ve ever made. Have you ever tried to quit smoking? If not, good for you—seriously—cigarettes are almost impossible to divorce; they call to you in moments of despair, moments of triumph, and in the waking and waning hours of the day. An unintentional life-partner, cigarettes accompany you wherever you go, selfishly stealing you away at parties, during movies, and in the middle of meetings… And yet, something so small held great sway over me; cigarettes determined my actions, my mood and my sanity most days. I remember Nicole looking at me that first day and sweetly sayin, “Hey babe, you want me to go get you a pack of smokes?”

Yep. It was THAT bad.  

I was an awful human. I snapped at the dog, threw things at the television, cursed in traffic (well, let’s be honest, I still do that sometimes) and all because I had set my sights on ‘better living’. If this was better living, then I wanted to live in the worst way…it didn’t seem worth it. But then something amazing happened sometime around that third or fourth day. Nicole hadn’t suffocated me while I slept, thankfully, so I lived to tell this tale. 

I woke up feeling…better. I succinctly remember praying that morning, asking God for grace and comfort and also thanking God for trials set in my path. Trials conducted by me, the judge, plaintiff, defendant, and jury. I realized that I was being too hard on everyone around me, especially myself. From then on, quitting smoking became a little easier everyday. Of course, eventually I chose to start chewing nicotine gum—I believe whole-heartedly that the Holy Spirit heard the plea of my wife and instilled in my the knowledge that I needed a bit more edge taken away, but not by smoking. Anyhow, I began to think about God when I would think about cigarettes. I began to pray instead of smoke. It’s weird, I know, but it’s true. Time spent smoking turned into time with Christ, in thoughtful prayer (most of the time, albeit I did gnash teeth and wail, too) and time spent committed to the activities of which I was part. The transference of time spent smoking to time spent in spiritual practice literally changed my life. My prayer life blossomed; I couldn’t go an hour without at least thinking about God, or talking to God about some inane thing occurring around me.

It still affects me to this day.

If you smoke, this isn’t a diatribe against you or your habit. Instead, I hope to trigger something inside of all of you that whispers, “…hey, you know that thing we do…maybe we should turn that off and make room for God in its place…” Choosing something to quit for Lent just for the sake of doing so is like taking a shower before working out—it makes zero sense. Rather than giving up or taking something on for Lent, just for the sake of doing so, perhaps my story will help you to discover possible areas in your life where God is knocking but you are otherwise occupied. Whatever you choose, know that by attempting to please God, you will please God. I wish you all a Holy Lenten season, filled with new experiences and deeper understanding of your relationship with Christ. I pray that the Holy Spirit guide all of us with patience and strength, so that we may know the love set aside strictly for us—and that that love has no cost.

So if you’re struggling, despairing, hopeless or afraid; if you’re joyful, hopeful, excited and determined; or if, like many, you’re going to half-heartedly approach Lent or watch it whisk-by untouched by any new practice; I urge you to consider what it is that can bring you closer to God and what it is that may be taking you away.

Bless you during Lent, and remember that you are beloved by God the Father, guided by God the Holy Spirit, and marked and sealed as Christ’s own, forever.


 Fr. Sean+