Craig is the founder and senior pastor of Lifechurch.tv, the second largest church in the United States and the creator of the YouVersion Bible App. This essay is an adaptation from Craig’s new book, Soul Detox: Clean Living in a Contaminated World.
When I was growing up, it seemed like all grown-ups smoked, all the moms continually twirling Virginia Slims between their fingers while our dads talked with a Marlboro or Camel dangling from the corner of their mouths. My own mom and dad, although wonderful parents in too many ways to count, fit right in with their peers and smoked at least two packs a day.
Being raised in a house filled with smoke, I never noticed it. A non-smoking guest would have instantly identified it and likely complained, but my family thought nothing of it. Most of us probably have a smell we associate with growing up—our mom’s pine cleaner or dad’s Old Spice—but for me the smell was cigarette smoke.
I didn’t realize how unhealthy my home was until I got outside it enough to breathe freely and experience the difference. In fact, after living in a smoke-free environment for the first time ever in my college dorm, when I returned home, I was shocked.
The walls, which I remembered as a crisp white, held a dull, yellowish tint. A pale gray film coated the air. Even when no one had a cigarette lit, an unmistakable haze filled the room and enveloped us all. And as soon as I walked in the door after being away at college, the odor slapped me in the face. Instead of the comfortable and familiar smell of “my home,” my old dwelling place smelled like a stale ashtray.
About the time I started college, the American Medical Association came out with its findings on the dangers of second-hand smoke, especially for children. For the first eighteen years of my life, I lived in a cloud of second-hand smoke, oblivious to how it was coating my skin, my lungs, my throat. Not only did I smell like a chimney, but I unknowingly inhaled poison on a daily basis. I didn’t blame my parents; they didn’t know that second-hand smoke is practically as dangerous as inhaling it firsthand. But their ignorance didn’t change the reality of the situation.
I’m convinced that many of us are living in this same kind of dangerous trap with our spiritual health. Just like I lived unaware of the smoke in my home, many people today aren’t fully aware of the forces stunting their spiritual growth.
We know something doesn’t quite feel right, that we’re not growing closer to God and following Jesus the way we would like, but we can’t put our finger on it. Even though we believe in God and want to please him, we find it hard to serve him passionately and consistently. We want to move forward spiritually but feel like we’re running against the wind. We want more—we know there’s more—but we just can’t seem to find it.
Without realizing the impact on our faith, we often embrace harmful relationships, consume toxic media, live with addictive habits, and remain oblivious to the long-term effects. We think the way we live is perfectly fine, normal, harmless, or even positive. Some people don’t want to take an honest look at the way they live by claiming, “What you don’t know won’t hurt you.”
Unfortunately, this just isn’t true. Many individuals who inhaled second-hand smoke—not to mention all the millions of smokers—have suffered permanent and painful physical effects. The truth is this: what many people don’t know, is not just hurting them, but is killing them spiritually.
In our present culture, without even realizing it, we’ve slowly become acclimated to a toxic environment full of poisonous influences. What we watch, hear, read, and play affects who we are and the choices we make every day. Whether it’s profanity in sitcoms or partial (sometimes total) nudity in advertisements, crass lyrics in popular songs or extreme violence in video games, we’re exposed to soul toxins everyday. If we’re breathing in cultural smoke without realizing it, then our spiritual health will be compromised.
I’m proud to say that both my parents overcame their addiction to tobacco and did what many seem unable to do—quit smoking. They recognized that something they enjoyed and accepted had the potential to harm themselves and those they loved most. They realized that it wasn’t too late to live a healthy life again.
If you’re tired of the stain of sinful habits discoloring your life, if you long to breathe fresh, clean life-giving air again, then I encourage you to assess your spiritual health. Stop and think about what you’ve accepted as “normal.” It’s not too late to quit old habits and discover the fresh air of God’s truth.