13: Off the Hook

13: Off the Hook

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles Happen

Off the Hook

Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.

~Søren Kierkegaard

“You’re my best friend,” Marcie told me, lifting the red book in her hands. “I’m worried about you. You have got to quit smoking!” She held the self-help book out to me and said, “This book really helped my husband quit. Maybe it’ll work for you too.”

I sighed. My husband and children had been nagging me for years and now my dearest friend was stepping up to remind me as well. I had been smoking since I was fifteen. Over the years I had tried numerous times to quit—aversion therapy, hypnosis and many attempts at going cold turkey—but the cravings were so intense and my willpower so weak, I would be miserable and only last a week or two before giving in. Second, I had struggled with chronic depression for many years and each attempt to quit smoking would trigger an episode, exacerbating my feelings of hopelessness and despair.

“Thanks, Marce,” I said, taking the book with what I hoped would pass for a grateful smile. “I’m kind of busy lately but I’ll get to it as soon as I can.” After she left, I took the book and set it dutifully on the coffee table where it sat, radiating guilt vibes at me. “Leave me alone,” I muttered. “I’m happy smoking. I don’t want to quit.”

But I wasn’t happy smoking, and I did want to quit. I hated knowing I was addicted to something as stupid as lighting a cylinder of leaves and sucking toxic smoke into my lungs. I knew I was playing Russian roulette with cancer.

I covered the book with a magazine, grabbed my cigarettes and went outside.

Months passed. I shuffled the book from one end of the coffee table to the other, studiously ignoring the bright red cover that said Hooked But Not Helpless. Each time Marcie asked if I’d read the book, I’d mutter, “Soon.”

One day, in the midst of a devastating bout of depression—sadness and despair so deep that rising from bed in the morning seemed like a mountain too high to climb—I felt strangely compelled to pick it up. In resignation, I started to read. At least I’ll be able to give it back to Marcie, I thought, and get it off my coffee table.

Hours later, I finished the book. Its premise for overcoming smoking addiction had been simple but innovative, teaching the reader how to change thinking patterns about smoking, and including good strategies for dealing with feelings of deprivation. Sitting back, I found myself experiencing an unfamiliar feeling… hope.

On the heels of that feeling came an unquestionable knowledge: God wanted me to quit. I put my head in my hands and groaned.

“No way, God!” The very idea made me mad. “I can’t do it. You know I can’t!”

But the feeling persisted. And it wouldn’t leave me alone. Finally, I threw the book down on the table and, I’m embarrassed to say, issued a very irreverent ultimatum: “Apparently you want me to quit smoking, even though you know I’m drowning in depression down here. Well, I think it’s completely unfair of you to even suggest it, but here’s the deal: I’ll try—but I’m telling you this—if I do, You have to do it all. I mean every bit of it. If I have one craving, I’m giving in and smoking.”

God, His usual, enigmatic self, didn’t say a word.

I got up, put my pack of cigarettes into a drawer and resigned myself to the misery of deprivation.

The rest of the day passed. The family came home and we ate dinner, watched TV and went to bed. Morning came and we all arose and went about our routines. My husband went off to work, the kids left for school and I busied myself with cleaning, laundry and my usual chores. Throughout the day, I kept having the strange feeling that I was forgetting something. I’d stop what I was doing, think, scratch my head, then when nothing came to mind, shrug and go about my work. It took about two days of this before I realized… I wasn’t smoking! Not only wasn’t I smoking, I had totally forgotten about it! Shocked and wary, I searched my mind for any of the cigarette cravings that had ruled my life for so long. Nothing. I had absolutely no interest in smoking.

That was twenty years ago. I have never had a craving and have never missed smoking. It is as if I had never smoked. Not a day goes by that I’m not awestruck at the magnitude of this miracle, and filled with gratitude—I’m off the hook! Thirty-five years of bondage, broken in a moment by an irreverent, even faithless prayer. And I understand now that our Father listens to and answers His children’s supplications no matter what emotional state we are in when we call out.

So the next time you feel like you’re all alone in the world and God’s too busy or disinterested to listen to little you and your problems, He isn’t. Pray anyway. What do you have to lose?

~Tina Wagner Mattern

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