One Saturday when my daughter Mara was six I was being a “good dad,” watching TV with her. At one point, an Ad Council public service announcement came on. It talked about the dangers of cigarette smoking and how it had been found to cause cancer.
I was a smoker at the time, and I happened to have a cigarette lit when the announcement came on. Mara turned to me and asked: “Is that right, Dad? Is cigarette smoking bad for you?” “Yes,” I admitted. Next, Mara asked: “Then why are you smoking?”
I had actually tried to quit several times, but this was a moment I couldn’t escape. I realized Mara would grow up knowing that Dad believed one thing and did another. She would see a deep division in how “mature” people live. The thought of her realizing I lacked the self control I hoped for her and others in the family was too much.
I turned the TV off and asked her right then to pray for me. She did, and that impetus was enough to enable me to quit smoking for good.
The sixth century abbot, Dorotheos of Gaza, wrote: “If a man really sets his heart upon the will of God, [God] will enlighten a little child to tell that man what is His will. But if a man does not truly desire the will of God, even if he goes in search of a prophet, God will put into the heart of the prophet a reply like the deception of his own heart.”
Children have a simplicity and straightforwardness that can be transformative for adults. To be around children is often an opportunity to desire the will of God and to face the truth about ourselves. I quit smoking for the sake of my little daughter. She was—and still is at age 40—an example to me of someone who excels in childlike faith.
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Don Simpson is a certified spiritual director in Colorado Springs and is senior editor at NavPress. He is coauthor with Dallas Willard of Revolution of Character (NavPress, 2005). He also participated in launching Discipleship Journal and The Small Group Letter, and was cofounder of Helmers & Howard, Publishers.