Monday, January 30, 2006

Smoking and other temptations

Craig Ferguson made an interesting observation several weeks ago. One of his viewers had written in and made a comment about trying to stop smoking (at the time he had a three pack per day habit). Craig praised him for the effort and encouraged him to keep at it, stating that he's been smoke free, after a heavy smoking habit, for ten years.

The thing he said that I found interesting was his observation that when a recovering smoker gets a craving for a cigarette, the craving will go away whether the smoker has a cigarette or not.

It's so elementary it's profound. I doubt it would surprise anyone particularly perceptive who's also been there, but I noticed it seems to be true for other occasions to sin. I used to have some bad habits--and I use the past tense with all deliberate optimism--that would basically result in me succumbing to temptation in order to get past (obviously not overcome) it, something like eating a chocolate cake so there would no longer be a cake to tempt me. Some things weren't hard for me to resist, but other things I was only stopped from doing by circumstances, not by some grace-filled act of fortitude.

I was happy to take what I could get, but it didn't occur to me that struggling with sin in the sense of actually resisting the most tempting things, instead of just succumbing and repenting over and over, was something that I could find outside a storybook on the saints. I know a lot of saints started out with very worldly lifestyles, but when we think of saints we're supposed to think of heroic virtue, and heroism by definition is not prosaic. Maybe I'm oversimplifying a little, again.

Anyway, I realized that while it's good to develop a habit of repentance, it would be a sin against hope to just give up whenever the going gets tough. There are graces to help keep you from sinning as well, remember? Get a craving for a cigarette or something else you've decided to cut out of your life, don't assume you're going to fail; assume that with the grace of God you will succeed, dig your heels in, and pray. Pray for the strength to stay on the side of virtue, pray in thanks for the will to choose good instead of sin, pray in thanks for the grace to pray for fortitude in the first place, and maybe find some other distraction to engage yourself in at the same time; if you're like me, you won't often be able to pray with enough focus to block out the temptation or craving before it passes.

If you're even more like me, you probably won't be able to keep it up every time you're under attack, all the times your weaknesses get exposed, but we have the sacrament of confession for that purpose. With frequent confession and frequent communion, you will have reason to hope for real, if perhaps gradual, conversion and sanctification.

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