380) Keeping Watch (part one of two)

     For years Mick has smoked three packs of cigarettes a day.  Now, when he comes up the basement stairs he has to stop and catch his breath even though he is not yet fifty years old.  He wants to quit smoking and he is angry with himself that he cannot.  He’s mad at himself for even getting started, but when Mick began smoking he did not start by saying to himself, “I think I’ll become a 3-pack a day smoker and wreck my lungs by the time I’m 48.”  He never made that decision or even thought about that as a possibility.  He started the usual way by succumbing to peer pressure.  But he thought it would only be for a while.  He had seen the pictures of ruined lungs taken out of people in their 50’s who died of lung cancer caused by smoking.  Mick knew he’d quit long before that.  He knew he wasn’t going to make the mistake of getting hooked.  But before long Mick was smoking even when his friends weren’t around.  He hadn’t yet noticed the ‘addictive’ patterns he had fallen into; a cigarette on break time at work, a cigarette after supper, and a few cigarettes whenever he got nervous.

     It was when Mick got to college that he really noticed that he had a problem.  Classes were difficult, he was constantly under pressure, and he always felt the urge to get out his cigarettes when he sat down to study.  He noticed once that he smoked a whole pack in a single day and he vowed to quit.  But it wasn’t long and he decided he did not need that additional anxiety.  It bothered Mick to see how addicted he had become, but he felt he had enough pressure without trying to stop smoking.  He’d try to quit during the summer, and then, well, maybe after college, and then, once he’d get his first job, then once he’d get used to the job.  On and on he went, but instead of quitting, his habit grew worse.  Mick would joke with his friends, “It’s easy to quit smoking.  I’ve done it dozens of times.”  But he know it was no laughing matter anymore.  Now his kids showed him pictures of black lungs taken out of dead smokers as they begged him to quit, but it was so hard.  It amazed him that a habit could get such a powerful hold on him after getting into it so unintentionally.  He had intended to smoke just a few cigarettes to keep his friends off his back.  Now he could not quit even though it was killing him.

     Cindy used to be very active in her church.  In her parent’s attic are several pins she received for years of perfect attendance at Sunday School.  When the confirmation class was examined by the pastor in front of the congregation she was eager for the pastor to call on her because she knew every answer.  When she was in the tenth grade she was the youth group treasurer and when she was a senior she was the president.  If for some reason Cindy had to miss church or Sunday School, she would feel like the day was not complete.  Cindy read her Bible and said her prayers every day, she felt a closeness to Jesus as her friend, and she felt close to the people in her congregation.

     When Cindy went to college in another state she had not planned to end any of that.  She never said, “I am 18 now and my parents aren’t here to make me go, so I am finally done with the church.”  She did not say that nor would such a thought ever have occurred to her, and so it was natural for her to go to church that first Sunday morning that she was away from home.  She looked forward to going to a new church and meeting new people.  But going to church that first Sunday proved to be a disappointment for Cindy.  It wasn’t like back home where she knew everyone and enjoyed the fellowship.  It felt odd to be at church and feel so all alone.  She had hoped to meet some people after church but she did not talk to anyone.  No one came to talk to her and she did not see anyone she felt she could approach.  Everyone was already in groups, talking and laughing.  She looked in the church bulletin for something she might get involved in to meet people.  However, there was only one thing on the church calendar that was of any interest to her, and she had a class that night.  Cindy went home disappointed but determined to keep trying.  Surely it will be better when she started meeting more people at school and they could go to church together.  But Cindy did not meet anyone who wanted to go to church.  So the next Sunday she went alone again, and was again disappointed. 

     Cindy’s was enjoying the social life at college even though it lacked any Christian fellowship.  She had heard about some Christian student groups on campus, and one of her friends had gone to a meeting of one of them.  But her friend said it was weird, and so Cindy did not look into any of them.  After several weeks of faithfully going to church, Cindy slept in one Sunday morning and missed worship.  Not long after that she missed again.  Soon, she was not going at all.  She kept having her daily devotions which had been such a source of strength for her in the early weeks of college.  But those devotional times were also now becoming briefer and less regular.  Cindy hadn’t decided to quit believing in Jesus.  She just hadn’t yet found the right place to worship, and she was becoming less and less determined to even look for such a place.  She finally decided she would get back into the habit of going to church someday when she was finished with college and settled into her own home.

     Cindy should have made a commitment to a church in the town where she attended college, and even though it was lonely at first, she would have begun to meet people and rebuild the fellowship she once knew.  Or she should have looked into one of the Christian groups on campus, and not just ignore them because of one person’s comment about one group.  She should have made more of an effort to rebuild what she lost in the move to college, but she did not.  And even if she did not find the same fellowship, she should have kept going to church just to worship.  But even though she had no intention of turning her back on her faith, that is what slowly began to happen.  By her second year of college, Cindy was making no effort at all to find any church or any Christian fellowship.  She had fallen out of the habit of daily devotions and now prayed only occasionally; perhaps before a big exam or when she was having trouble with her boyfriend.  And she no longer felt the spiritual emptiness that she had felt at first.  There were now so many other things going on in her life.

     One time on the long ride home for Christmas a song on the radio reminded Cindy of the Sunday School Christmas programs when she was a child.  She remembered how her faith had once meant so much to her and her heart began to ache as she longed to again have that closeness with God.  She made up her mind to get back in touch with God.  But then in the busyness of Christmas and the beginning of a new quarter at school those fleeting emotions passed and her resolve was forgotten.

     After college, Cindy got a job teaching school.  She met and married a local businessman.  He too had once been active in the church but had drifted away.  Neither Cindy or her husband gave much thought at all anymore to spiritual things.  They were not opposed to religion, of course, but they had been out of touch for so long that the question of what Jesus might have to do with their lives or what the Bible might have to say about anything, never entered their minds.  Whether or not they even believed in Jesus as their Savior wasn’t something they thought about or cared about anymore.

     Samuel Johnson once said, “The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.”  Jesus Christ said, “Keep watch!”  (continued…)

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Matthew 24:42  —  Jesus said, “Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”

Hebrews 2:1  —  We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.

Hebrews 10:25  —  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–  and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

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Make us remember, O God, that every day is your gift, to be used according to your command.  Amen.

–Samuel Johnson