I had a dream that I travelled back in time to visit my Mom. We were together in the living room in our old house in Chattanooga. She was sitting on the couch by the windows, where later we would put the hospital bed. She died in the same place she had sat all those years.
When I traveled there in my dream, I told her that I was really 45, that essentially, I was possessing my own body. I asked her how old I was at the time, because everything always looked the same there. She told me that I was 12.
I told her that she died when I was young, but I didn’t tell her when. I told her how it affected me. I told her that she might want to stop smoking and start eating well.
We had a steady diet of junk when I was growing up – no fresh vegetables, a lot of fried food. If we ate vegetables at all they came out of a can or the freezer. A lot of food was brown. The walls of the house were stained yellow with all the tobacco smoke. It was a very unhealthy place to grow up. I had no control over my environment, and the people who should have looked out for me were killing me day by day.
For some reason I felt like I could warn her about the train wreck she was making of our lives by smoking and eating poorly. Her bad choices were my bad choices by default. I was her child and had no control over what I ate and the air I breathed when I was there. For some reason I thought I could change her ways by coming back as an adult to tell her what would happen if she didn’t change.
When I woke up, I pondered on that dream and I thought of this Bible passage. Jesus told this story about a rich man and a poor man. The Lazarus in this story isn’t the same one he raised from the dead – that was the brother of Martha and Mary.
19 “There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Laz′arus, full of sores,21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Laz′arus in his bosom.24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Laz′arus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Laz′arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.’” (RSV)
So I realized that it didn’t matter. Even if I had been able to go back to tell her to change her ways, it wouldn’t have done any good. She knew that smoking was bad for her but she still did it. She knew that she should eat better but she didn’t do it. She had made her choices and she stuck to them, regardless of the warning signs and the evidence.
How many people are like this? They’d rather stick with what they know to be bad rather than make the change to what they know to be good.
Change is hard. It takes a lot of energy to break free of a bad habit. But it is worth it. And the more you push towards being healthy, the more energy you have to make other changes.