Authored by Mara Hodler
I was 18 years old and embarking on my first solo intercontinental journey from Italy, my home of several years, to Miami, Florida. Like any good Italian (okay, I’m not really Italian, but pretty close), I had shopped for the perfect outfit for the trip—a herringbone sheath dress paired with a complementing turtleneck and wool-lined, mid-shin lace-up boots. (Which, by the way, is total overkill for Miami at any time of year.) What you’re supposed to take away from that long description is that I was excited. Very excited. And, in the spirit of independence and excitement, I bought myself a celebratory Snickers bar.
I know, it sounds dumb now (actually, it seemed dumb about 20 minutes later when it almost killed me), but candy bars were not a part of my childhood. My parents were pretty much against any sort of processed food or refined sugars. Once in a while my mom would bend the rule for a good piece of chocolate or some other homemade treat, but candy bars were a definite no-no. So, now that I had some independence, I was finding all sorts of “great reasons” to have a candy bar.
I was one of the first ones on the plane, and, after settling into my seat, I proceeded to unwrap my Snickers bar and enjoy it. One bite into the sticky, peanutty confection, and I started choking like mad. My first bite went down the wrong pipe. My eyes began to water as I gasped for breath (as quietly as one can gasp for breath).
All that was running through my head was, “A few hours away from home and I’m going to choke to death on a candy bar! How embarrassing!” Within a few minutes, a flight attendant was by my side asking if I was okay and handing me a bottle of water to help. At that moment it did not matter how well I had picked out my outfit, I was just so mad at myself for picking a candy bar.
Of course, I recovered from that experience just fine. But something did stick with me from that: just because you can doesn’t mean that you should.
There’s a verse in the Bible about freedom that has always impressed me: “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.”1 That might sound like a pretty intense verse to be applied to nothing more than a candy-bar story, and the point is certainly not that candy bars are always a bad choice.
I think it’s human nature that, when we have the opportunity to choose, we are inclined to choose something that brings us pleasure or that is easier for us. It can sometimes take a lot of trial and error and life lessons to learn to make good choices—choices based on what’s ultimately good for ourselves, and even good for someone else.
Now, I wish that candy bar was the last poor choice I ever made, but it’s not. Of course, some of my foolish choices were just made out of ignorance; after all, we’re bound to get some things wrong in life. But the choices I am speaking about are times that I chose to indulge myself in some way that ended up hurting me or someone else.
I could tell you stories about things like my sharing a snippet of unnecessary gossip, exploding in anger when I really could have kept my cool, staying up late to watch another TV show when my mind and body just needed rest, dating someone I knew was wrong for me, hanging out with people who didn’t share my values just to look cool, or skipping a workout (or a year and a half’s worth of workouts), and on and on the list goes.
The candy bar was really the least of my poor choices, but somehow it was the one that stuck with me.—And it’s significantly easier to talk about than some other things I’ve done.
So, let’s talk about you for a little bit. As you grow into adulthood you will have more and more freedom to make your own choices. Independence is a wonderful thing, but the fine print on independence is that it comes with a hefty side of responsibility. Each choice will have consequences, even silly ones like having a Snickers bar.
The more you learn to hold yourself to certain standards of morals, health, and friendships—and make choices that align with that standard—the happier you will be with the long-term outcome. There are times when making a good choice involves an element of denying yourself or postponing satisfaction. For example, sharing a juicy tidbit of gossip might feel great for a few minutes, until you see the look on the face of the person you just betrayed with your words. For that moment, it feels awful, and any satisfaction you had with sharing the gossip quickly gives way to regret. Whereas refraining from sharing your “exciting” snippet might deny you the opportunity to be the news-bearing center of attention for a few minutes, but it may even go as far as preserving a friendship.
Striving to make good choices does not mean that you will never make wrong ones. Making wrong choices is part of the learning process of life. No matter how many great things you learn from others, a certain amount of hands-on experience is required for truly understanding life’s principles and lessons. This is because life is different for each of us, and there are no two people who experience life in the same way.
So don’t worry about messing up sometimes.
Chew on this thought if you will: Self-indulgence, without thought for your long-term goals, or the needs of others you care about, can lead to regret and disappointment. Use your independence and freedom to, as the Bible put it, “serve one another in love,” and you will be happy with the results of your decisions.
And, by all means, there are times (and even a need) for a little self-indulgence. There are times when you should enjoy a great treat, buy something you have always wanted, or have some fun. Just be sure it doesn’t end with you or anyone else choking on a piece of candy.
1 1Galatians 5:13 NLT
Read by Amber Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). Copyright© 2013 by The Family International