She wandered casually into the kitchen and started making a sandwich. “I was thinking of taking up smoking.”
“Oh,” I responded, mentally pressing my “don’t overreact” button.
“What do you think?” she persisted.
“Well, apart from the fact that it’s illegal at your age,” I replied, “I’d have thought you’d have more sense, but I suppose they’re your lungs and you can do what you like with them.”
“What do you mean?”
“A generation ago when people weren’t fully aware of the effects of smoking, I guess they took it up, and by the time the dangers were beginning to be understood, they were addicted and couldn’t stop. But now that we know what we know about smoking, why on earth would anyone start?”
She frowned. “But you wouldn’t try to stop me?”
“Of course. If I saw you smoking I would stop you. I would stop you breaking the law in any way and at the moment you’re too young to smoke legally. But I’m not stupid. I know that if you want to smoke behind my back there’s nothing I can do about it. I just hope you have a bit more sense.”
“Sarah wants me to smoke with her.”
“And if Sarah wanted you to jump off the bridge with her, would you do it?”
“Well no, because if I did that I would get killed and there’s no going back from that. But I could smoke just once and never do it again.”
“What’s the point?”
“The thing is, if I never try these things, how will I know if I like them or not? All my friends do it, and it might be really fun, and if I never try it I could miss out on the fun.”
“Well, yes, that’s one way of looking at it,” I responded, shooting up a quick arrow-prayer for divine wisdom. “But then your friends might do all sorts of things that you haven’t tried yet.”
“What sort of things?”
“Well – drinking and drugs and sex and abortions and Ouija boards....”
Her face grew more horrified as the list went on. “I only asked if I could smoke.”
“Yes, but you’ve just said if you never experiment, how will you know if you like it. And you might one day ask yourself the same question about those other things.”
“I’m not stupid enough to do those things.”
“Oh – so you intend to draw a line somewhere then?”
“Yes of course.”
“So if you’re going to draw a line somewhere, why not draw it this side of smoking, instead of the other side?”
She was quiet, wrapping her sandwich in cling film and placing it in her lunch box. We never did discuss it any further, and I know she sometimes smoked away from the house. But my words weren’t entirely wasted because she did decide to draw some firm lines. Fifteen years have passed since that conversation and she looks back to her fifteen year old self with some amusement. Every now and then she tells me some snippet about things she got up to behind my back. She didn’t smoke for long, and she didn’t try any of the other things on my list. She even got all the way through university with her virginity intact. But the way she tells it, it wasn’t because I laid down the law and imposed rules. It was because before she went to university she fell in love with Jesus, and then she never wanted to do anything to grieve Him.
I am grateful that He came to her and stole her heart and that He has been her first love ever since. And I am so grateful to Him that He gave me the wisdom that day not to overreact and give her something to rebel against.
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