Please, Don’t See Me Now!


When I first tried to quit smoking, I eased off cigarettes by taking up a pipe. I was teaching at the University of Montana. I had heard that pipe smoking was a leisurely and professorial activity–not a compulsive, frantic one as cigarette smoking.


You had to clean your pipe out with pipe cleaners and a pen knife. You had to tamp your tobacco into the pipe bowl. You held a match over the bowl of the pipe, and puffed, and leaned back in your office chair or rocker. It was an activity to be enjoyed and even savored.


As my granddaughter’d say when she was doing something she knew her mother wouldn’t like, “Don’t see me now!” In front of my students, I was all leisureliness, as I extolled the virtues of pipe smoking. But when I was alone, I compulsively filled bowl after bowl with tobacco. I puffed on that pipe as if it were a cigarette, filling my office with billows of smoke.


Then there was the time I quit for a month. I’d say, “This is easy. I can control myself, quit any time, with or without the gum or the patch.” Well, “Please don’t see me now!”


I bought these expensive cigars. Every once in a while, I’d reward myself with a cigar after dinner. Soon I was rewarding myself after breakfast and lunch. I bought less expensive cigars, mini cigars, and soon I smoked them as often as I smoked cigarettes. I concluded the inevitable: it was cheaper and easier to carry around cigarettes.


Finally I decided to get serious about quitting. I was working as a bureaucrat for the State of Montana, and I was smoking almost two packs a day. The longer I stayed after hours at work, the more I smoked. I sometimes found that I had a cigarette on my lip, one between my fingers, and one in the ashtray on my desk. All three were lighted and smoldering. How did that happen? I had to do something.


So I went on a week’s vacation to an exotic place with this resolve: on vacation, I would use step-down filters, and as soon as I got back, I would be on my last one. All went as planned. As I entered the home terminal, I threw away my last filter and all my cigarettes. As soon as I stepped back into my office at work, and the problems began hitting my desk, I was bumming cigarettes and smoking up a storm. “O God, don’t see me now!”


The next year I tried again to quit. This time I went on vacation with this resolve: I would quit cold turkey as soon as I left. No smoking on vacation. When I returned to work, no matter how pressured it was, I would not smoke. Quitting smoking would take priority, and I would also spend more time with the family.


I was going to change. “For where your treasure is,” as Jesus says, “there your heart will be also.” I succeeded in kicking that awful habit. It was a long struggle. When others were having coffee and that phantom urge to smoke swept over me, I’d say, “Boy, I could sure a cigarette just about now.” When a co-worker would shake out a fag from his pack, I’d say, “No…I don’t really want a cigarette. I’ve just learned that when I acknowledge the urge to smoke, it soon goes away.”


And as the urge became fewer and far between, I wanted to shout, “O God, look, look!  Do see me now!” But that was unnecessary, for God sees our struggles in secret and knows that we are human, all too human.


I learned eventually that I needed to give up my reliance on the many things of this world and to embrace my dependence on God. Thanks be to God for his grace that surrounds me even when I am trying my best to deny my limitations.