Holy Smoke!

Kathryn Slattery's real life story of quitting smoking

by
Feb 1, 2010

Did you know that in the Bible, there are 139 references to the healing power of God’s love? 

Indeed, when Jesus walked on earth, he brought a two-pronged message of good news. First, he preached the message of forgiveness, offering imperfect people reconciliation to God and the promise of eternal life. 

Secondly, he healed people. Physically, emotionally, relationally and spiritually, Jesus healed people. 

Forgiveness and healing: two sides of the same coin that, according to the Bible, pretty much sum up what God is all about. I discovered it in a surprising way.

I was 24 years old, driving north on Orlando’s South Orange Blossom Trail. Gripping the steering wheel of my lime green Mustang with one hand, with the other I raised the car’s cigarette lighter, glowing ruby-red, to the Winston clenched between my lips. 

Okay, God, I inhaled the delicious nicotine-laced smoke. This is my last cigarette. I promise.

But before I could exhale, I knew it was a promise I would not keep. 

I couldn’t understand why it was so hard for me to quit smoking. I mean, I really wanted to stop. I’d seen the photographs that compared a healthy pink non-smoker’s lungs to the blackened lungs of a smoker. I agreed that it was a dirty habit. I worried about my persistent cough and ticklish throat. But no matter how hard I tried to quit, I just wasn’t able to do it. 

Turning right into my apartment complex as Todd Rundgren warbled "Hello It’s Me," I took one last drag and parked.

“Hey, hoo-ney!” I did my best Ricky Ricardo impression to make Sandy laugh. “I’m hoo-me!” 

My roommate Sandy and I worked in the advertising and public relations department at Tupperware. When Sandy joined the company, we hit it off immediately. Both of us loved the Beatles, had big feet (size 10), and—most importantly—we discovered that we shared a simple faith in a loving God. 

There was only one major difference between us. Sandy did not smoke. And she did not approve of my smoking.

“It’s disgusting,” she said. “Plus, it’ll kill you.”

Since becoming a Christian in college, I had flitted from church to church, never staying anywhere long enough to call any one congregation “home.” I enjoyed visiting churches and liked the way each church had something unique and colorful to offer. At some point during the service of every church I visited, I closed my eyes and silently begged: Please God, help me quit smoking. 

I was Protestant. Sandy was Roman Catholic, a regular churchgoer who frequently invited me to join her for Sunday mass. On a chilly February morning in 1977, I finally agreed.

Orlando’s St. John Vianney Catholic Church was a modest, cement block structure, just off the South Orange Blossom Trail. I’d never been inside a Catholic church before. The sermon, which the priest called a “homily,” was about Saint Blaise, a physician who lived in Armenia in the fourth century when Christians were being persecuted by the Romans. 

Saint Blaise loved Jesus and was martyred for his faith. Because he once saved the life of a young boy who was choking on a fish bone, he became known in the early church as the patron saint for curing sicknesses of the throat. 

“Today is February third,” said the priest, “the Feast Day for Saint Blaise. As many of you know, a special blessing of the throat is offered on this day. If any one of you would like to have your throat blessed, please come forward and I will pray for you.”

I glanced at Sandy.

She raised her eyebrows as if to ask, Well?

I took a deep breath and stepped forward.
 
What if the priest asks if I’m an official member of his church? I worried. What if he only blesses Catholics?

The priest looked at me with compassionate brown eyes. He asked no questions.

“In the name of Jesus,” he said, “on this Feast Day of Saint Blaise, I pray that you no longer suffer from any illness of the throat and that you be healed by God.” With his right thumb, he gently marked my forehead with the sign of the cross. “I bless you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

That was it. No spiritual swooning. But I was impressed by the priest’s tenderness and generosity—especially to a visitor.
 
When I returned to the apartment, I reached into the bottom of my purse and pulled out a half-full pack of cigarettes. 

Okay, God. I crumpled up the pack and tossed it into a white wicker wastebasket. And I never smoked again.

Now this is, admittedly, a dramatic example of a faith-based healing. Very often healing takes time—especially the healing of broken relationships. As with any prayer, sometimes God’s answer to a prayer for healing is “Yes.” But sometimes it is “Wait” or “Not now.” But no matter what God’s answer may be, the first step toward healing is to step out in faith, and with the unwavering trust of a child, ask. 

Is there an area in your life—physical, emotional, relational, or spiritual—that cries out for healing? Talk to God, our great and loving physician, whose nature it is to heal and for whom, the Bible says, nothing is impossible.

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