Empowerment Posted on Aug 23, 2016 by Susan Sparks

Smoking in the Shower

This blog post was also featured in Psychology Today.

Recently, I was preaching in Martha’s Vineyard and had breakfast at the ARTCLIFF Diner. I loved the creative names the restaurant gave the dishes. For example, breakfast included a dish called “Smoking in the Shower,” which, of course, I immediately ordered. Soon, I was munching on a bagel with smoked salmon and thinking about how the name of that breakfast oughta be a blog post, so here we are…

We all have our smoking-in-the-shower moments—things we do when no one is looking, things that may feel good at the time but in the long run don’t make us stronger.

Things like chowing down on a giant container of Ben and Jerry’s at 2 AM because no one can see you.

Or being rude to someone when no one else is around.

Or bullying—being mean or even violent to others because it makes the bully feel good, and no one is really looking.

Or managing up at work. We all know people like this: those who are super attentive and polite to their bosses but difficult and disrespectful to their subordinates when the higher-ups aren’t looking.

Smoking-in-the-shower moments happen in all aspects of life. But we have to remember that what we do in private over time drives who we are in public.

This can be as basic as what we eat or drink in private. If we abuse our bodies in private, we’re eventually going to run out of steam in public. Ten years ago, I did a solo drive from New York City to Alaska. Trying to do it on the cheap, I ate a lot of McDonald’s and bought very cheap gas. That was fine until it caught up with me somewhere in the Yukon. The Jeep could barely climb a hill, and I couldn’t fit in my overalls.

We must also be careful with what we feed our minds. If we spend our personal time feeding our minds with trash like reality television or worse, negative, destructive things, then in public, we are going to reflect those negative, destructive things. You may not think so, but these things seep in over time, affecting how we think, what we think about, and how we engage with others.

What we do in private forms our foundations. If our foundations are strong, we can weather anything. But if our foundations are weak or corroded by poor choices, eventually we will fall.

Now here’s the good news. No matter what choices we have made in the past, no matter how many times we have found ourselves smoking in the shower, we can change. And here’s the even better news: we don’t have to do it alone. There’s a little something called prayer that allows us to access a greater power and use that power for the greater good. As Mother Teresa said, “Prayer changes us, and we change things.”

Dig your foundations deep.

Build your life on a rock.

Don’t let your choices in private corrode the work you have to do in public.

As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”


“I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I’m supposed to do, what I can do. I used to pray for answers, but now I’m praying for strength. I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us, and we change things.”

 —Mother Teresa