Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Smoking, Church, and Habits

A new series of anti-smoking TV commercials are quite poignant. One depicts a lady mixing a drink at work before her smoke break and says "You don't drink every time you smoke, so why do you smoke every time you drink?" Another one uses the same concept with a guy running around with a cigarette looking for a car to drive. He eventually jacks a courier truck and takes it for a spin while the narrator proposes "You don't drive every time you smoke..."

Bad habits, we know, are hard to break. While good habits are hard to start. And they're even harder if we don't see fast results. I've been going to church for just about my entire life. I can't say that there's been a time when I wasn't a part of some congregation. There were times during college where I might have stayed at school for a few weekends and wound up not going, but for the most part, every season of my life has included some regular house of worship. Before you accuse me of bragging, let me very clear. There have been plenty of times in my life where I did not feel close to God--I was just still in church during those times-sometimes because I was literally getting paid to be there. I can recall the Sundays after tragedy struck my life where I was particularly unenthusiastic about going to church. For some of these times, I was on staff, so my paycheck required I attend. For others, I just plain didn't want to go, but somehow made myself go. Sometimes I just didn't go at all.

At the end of last week, I found out that my sister-in-law had passed away in Indiana from ovarian cancer and the funeral would be on Monday. Cindy (my wife) and I decided Friday night to drive up there with her mother for the funeral. Since my wife gets car-sick if she doesn't drive and my mother-in-law insisted on taking her car, I spent the last 3 days riding in the back seat of a Dodge Neon catching up on my reading. One book I read was "My Jesus Year" by Benyamin Cohen. The book is a memoir of the Orthodox Jewish author's 52-week journey into all things Christian-various churches, concerts, Christian festivals, and even celebrating Christmas-in an effort, not to convert to Christianity, but to learn more about his faith in God and Judaism.

One of his final experiences in this year-long experiment is going to confession at a Catholic church. He tells of going into the booth "undercover", and shares with the priest how he feels disconnected from his faith and how he hasn't been getting much out of the services. The father encourages him to attend services more regularly saying, "Even if you don't understand it now, just come to the services anyway, because eventually it will have meaning for you." Then the author comments how he was reiterating a Jewish concept known as Shelo lishmah bah lishmah-even if you do something for the wrong reasons, you'll eventually start doing it for the right reasons.

I think that is true of a lot of things in life, especially going to church. I don't know where I'd be if certain times in my life weren't accompanied by a staff job at a church that required my church attendance. And that habit has sustained me at times when I didn't realize it. Making ourselves go to church sometimes is hard, especially when we have to ask ourselves why we do it. But even if we don't know why we come, there is value to coming...and sometimes it just takes time to see that.


arlee bird said...

My father used to make us kids go to church every Sunday. When I got into my adolescent and teen years I really disliked going to church. As soon as I started college and got out on my own, I stopped going to church. But I always felt religious. I studied the Bible, listened to contemporary Christian music,and read Christian books. When I started having my own children I started going to church again and taking them. They are now grown and on their own, but my wife and I still go to church and I am fairly involved in it.

Jason Huffman said...

Thanks for the comment, Lee. I think a lot of us young-middle adults have made that progression and some make that final round of the cycle later in life. But there's a blessing to community.

Holly said...

Those ads sound interesting, and much cleverer than the ones we have here in NZ, which at the moment consist of poster featuring various celebrities and quotes about how terrible smoking is.

My Jesus Year sounds like an interesting book! I could never have spent that long reading in a car though I start to feel sick after a few minutes!

Jason Huffman said...

Thanks for the comment Holly. It was a fun read. I think we approach church incorrectly sometimes because we are always on the inside. This book allows the reader to be on the outside looking in for a new perspective.