I wish you a blessed 2005, dear friends, and pray that this year will be one of healing and peace for the whole human family.
It is not unusual for us to make resolutions at the beginning of a new year. I remember resolving each year during the early 1970s that I would not smoke anymore. Each year I was determined to stop doing something that was very damaging to my health, but each year I could refrain for no more than a few days before lapsing back into the smoking habit.
I remember especially 1975. For the sixth year in a row, I resolved to stop smoking. For the sixth year in a row, I did not persevere. And I was very discouraged — so much so that I lost hope that I could ever stop.
On May 11 of 1975, I walked into the dining room at the North American College smoking a cigarette. It was the last cigarette in the pack of Pall Mall’s that I had been “enjoying.” As I walked toward the table, I knew in an instant that I was not going to bum a cigarette from a friend, as I would always do in such circumstances. No. This was the time to quit, and I was sure that I would and could shake this troublesome habit.
When the meal ended, I went to my room, sat in an easy chair for some time and rested as peacefully as possible with the thought that I was finally going to be free from the smoking habit. At the end of that time settling with that new possibility, I went out for an easy, slow run around the seminary property. The run had to be easy and slow because my lungs would not tolerate anything more strenuous. That was the first day of over 20 years of running.
As it turned out, it was also the last day I ever smoked a cigarette. There was a bit of a struggle to it. For about 10 days, I found the withdrawal very difficult. At times, I felt very tense and edgy — so much so that I needed to be careful not to snap at or be short with people. At other times, I felt terribly fatigued. I remember biting the inside of my lip to keep from falling asleep during conversations with students.
The next phase brought more of the same, but this time in much milder form. As the days went on, that trend continued. I think that relief was due in part to my ability to run for longer times and more easily. It seemed that the desire to stop smoking deepened my motivation to run. My desire to become more fit strengthened my resolve to stay away from cigarettes.
By the end of the first month, both the edginess and sense of fatigue I had experienced so strongly had virtually disappeared. I still experienced an occasional strong desire to smoke, especially after a meal or when sitting around having a drink with friends. But within a year, I no longer had to cope with even that attraction.
Almost 30 years later, I remain grateful for that breakthrough moment in my life. As I look back on it, it seems to have been one of those moments in which human effort and God’s kind grace found a happy meeting place. After all of the resolution, struggle and failure of the years, I finally quit. But when I entered the dining room with my last cigarette burning in my hand, the deep sense that I could quit came to me as if unbidden and out of the blue. It came more as a gift than of the fruits of struggle. Even the minor tensions that ensued seemed accompanied by a deep inner confidence that they would not shake me from my resolve.
Would that moment of grace have come if there been no earlier struggles? I really don’t know the answer to that, but I do have a strong conviction that the difference was the grace and favor of God, which led me from the slavery of an addiction in my life to a freedom for which I deeply longed.
I think of this experience as we enter a new year. There are many areas in which I would like to grow, to be more free. I think of using time and food more responsibly, of being as consistent as I should be with physical exercise, of being more faithful to prayer and more attentive to those in need. With God’s help, I will try to work on those things as faithfully as I can, but I will also try my darnedest to remember that I am not doing any of it alone. Through it all, I will enjoy the grace of God and the prayer of the community.
If you have read this far, I hope that you will be encouraged to express to the Lord those good things for which your heart yearns. And I hope that you will do so confident that, while you may need to work hard for what you seek, you never stand alone in the quest. You always enjoy the grace of God and the prayer of the community.
Happy New Year!
Peace to all.