Note: before you panic, I am not advocating smoking or denying it's health hazards. Please read for the overall meaning as opposed to focusing on specifics.
I grew up thinking that wearing a bikini meant you were in cahoots with the devil, like he was living in your bellybutton. By the time I was old enough to realize that you can show your stomach and still love Jesus, I was entirely too insecure to even think about doing it. At youth group it was cool to wear shorts and T-shirts over your one piece bathing suit, and that gave me an excuse to hide behind soaking wet, sticky cotton t-shirts. You see, in my head, and most of the youth group girls’ heads, girl's bodies were a source of evil. They were the reason people got raped and christian boys struggled with lust. Pornography addictions were because innocent girls like me showed their bra straps and upper thighs.
When you grow up with people who are a lot like you, you don’t realize that some of the things you believe aren't true, or even ridiculous. In high school, I remember praying when I found out that one of my friends started smoking, thinking that they must have “backslidden” and were destined for hell; we whispered/gossiped/shared “prayer requests” about people who drank, putting them on our prayer lists and thumb tacking their names to bulletin boards in our youth room, begging God to “save this sinner”. (Because it would be your fault if they burned in hell). It was all about fear.
I promise you, these things were done with pure hearts, just kids doing what they were told, following the examples of the people in front of them.
Little by little, the list of “don’ts” grew longer that the list of “dos”. Don’t smoke. Don’t drink. Don’t dress immodestly. Don’t read Harry Potter or Twilight. Don’t hold hands with boys (because that will immediately lead to sex in about 5 minutes, tops.). Don’t listen to secular music. Don’t get tattoos. Don’t be friends with people who don’t believe in Jesus (you can invite them to church, but not be friends). Don’t curse. Don’t wear yoga pants (satan probably wear yoga pants). Don’t wear jeans to church. Don’t miss church. Don’t miss a quiet time or you’ll disappoint Jesus. (I know there were more but I’m getting aggravated trying to think of things.)
This list built a wall around me, isolating me from anyone who wasn’t inside. It made me feel guilty. It limited relationships to people who were exactly like me. I felt so judgmental. I learned things like, “its so much easier to be pulled down that to pull someone else up”; but avoiding people didn’t change either of us. It just denied love.
I said things like, “hate the sin not the sinner”; but hate was still involved, silently judging under a covering of overused, cliche phrases.
This was all a long time ago, and as I got older, I started to think about why I believed the things I did; not questioning my faith in God, but the methods I went about it with. I realized certain things didn’t matter, but deep down, even subconsciously, I still sometimes judged others according to my list of rules, rules that I didn’t even realize I still had. Christianity was a burden. Jesus was awesome, the rules were just exhausting. They put a bad taste in my mouth; like I could meet the most wonderful person, and as soon as I found out that they ___________, I found myself questioning their faith, or feeling guilty to introduce them to my parents.
Then one summer a few years ago, I met some new people. They loved me so well. They celebrated who I was and allowed me to completely be myself. They served the Lord with big hearts, were generous, kind, and all around beautiful. We would get together, and I would leave feeling so full in the Lord; so refreshed. I fell in love with them, and had never met people who made me feel so comfortable in my skin, like all my insecurities would disappear when I was with them.
But one day, they pulled out some cigarettes. Right in front of me. The small, tiny judgmental voice in me panicked. “Wait! I love these people! How can they be so great and do such an “unchristian” thing?” They offered me one, and I said yes. I don’t know why I said yes, except that maybe I was so tired of living under a burden of rules. And guess what? I didn’t go to hell, become addicted, or possessed by anything.
These friends broke so many of the walls I had built. Since then, as the years passed, I realized that loving the Lord and walking with him doesn’t look one specific way. My circle of friends broadened. I met people who loved the Lord and wore crop tops, drank (responsibly), and cursed. Jesus grew bigger as I stopped limiting him to such a tiny, conservative, evangelical circle. I crossed rules off the list, and then eventually just threw the list away, because I wanted to enjoy the Lord in everyone I met.
Kindness is so much more important.
Love is so much more important.
Being accepting and non-judgmental is so much more important.
Maybe saying that smoking saved my faith is a little dramatic, but it certainly led to loving Jesus more. It’s so much easier to love a person than a principle, and I had never realized that Jesus was so easy to love.