Part one of this two-part meditation is a story from a book by Methodist pastor William Willimon. But anyone could probably tell similar stories about someone they have known, or perhaps even from their own life. It is a story about family troubles, and we all know what that can be like. This story is a little worse than most, though not as bad as some. The details are always different in the many stories of troubled families, but the heartache is the same.
Here is Willimon’s story: Jim came home late that March evening. The traffic from the city had been terrible. As he made his way up the sidewalk from the driveway into the house, he was rather surprised to see only one light on, the light shining from the kitchen. He opened the door and as soon as he did so, one of the children yelled, “Daddy! Daddy’s home!”
He hugged his two small children, and then, glancing into the kitchen, he could see bags and bottles opened, and everything in disarray. Things were a mess. “Where’s your mom?” he asked the kids.
“Oh, she’s upstairs taking a nap,” little Sarah said, adding, “and we got hungry, so we decided to fix supper for ourselves. But we couldn’t figure everything out.”
“Taking a nap?,” he asked, filled with anxiety.
Tommy added, “Sarah put water into the mix, when the recipe said milk. I told her it wouldn’t work.”
Jim said, “Here are some cookies. Go watch some TV, and I’ll go up and check on Mom.” They grabbed the cookies and ran for the TV; and then, with dread, Jim headed up the stairs. He called out Sue’s name. No answer. He entered the bedroom, and there she was, laying on the bed, the pillow pulled up over her head. He moved toward her, and could smell the alcohol as he bent down to her. ‘Here we go again,’ he thought.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
Looking out from under the pillow, she replied, “I was just worn out after the day that we’ve had, and I needed to take a little nap.”
“A little nap?” Jim said, “it is seven o’clock at night and the kids are starved. Sue, how could you do this again?”
“You mean I’m not allowed to take a little nap when I’m sleepy?” she said groggily, pulling the pillow over her head again. But Jim didn’t answer. He went back downstairs, quite sure that she was out for the night. He made some sandwiches for supper, sat down with the two kids, and asked them about their day.
After they ate, they cleaned up the kitchen together. Just as they were finishing with that, Sue stumbled in. “Why didn’t you call me?,” she yelled, “Why didn’t you wake me when you got home? I suppose now I am going to get another lecture,” she said angrily. He told the children it was time for bed, and he walked past Sue to go upstairs with them.
After the kids were in bed, Sue said, “I know you don’t believe me, but I haven’t been feeling very well.” Her speech was slurred.
Jim said firmly, “You aren’t feeling well, because you are drunk again. Sue, how could you? This can’t go on.” Then she began to cry and apologize and promise that it would never happen again. It was the same routine every time. Jim was both angry and sad. He knew the move to the new city for his job had not gone well for Sue. She missed her old friends, and had not made many new ones yet. She went into a bit of a depression, and then her drinking started. They drank socially, and so they always had liquor in the house, but it had never been a problem.
Jim had first become gradually aware that Sue had seemed groggy in the evenings. Exhaustion, he thought. But then he started to smell the alcohol on her breath. He tried to say something a couple times, but she would get defensive and angry. So he said nothing for a while. Then, she stumbled and fell while carrying one of the children. He got very angry with her, she felt terrible, and she promised it would never happen again. But it did. He confronted her again, and she denied it was a problem. Whenever he suggested counseling or treatment, she would respond angrily, and the next day’s drinking would be even worse. He tried kindness, he tried firmness, he told her family about it, he talked to a friend who was in AA, but Sue resisted everything. He was getting used to being miserable at home, but he worried about the safety and well-being of the children. Jim took seriously his marriage vows, but he was confused, and did not know what would be the right thing to do. But one thing was sure– he was reaching his limit. He knew that alcoholism was a sickness, and he pitied Sue’s situation and condition, but he had his limits.
Pastor Willimon went on to say how when Jim came to see him, it was not to ask him what to do, but to tell him that he was leaving Sue. He was planning to seek custody of the kids, and if Sue fought him, he would expose her alcoholism and fight her in court. The drinking made her unfit to care for the children. He said he had tried everything and that he had reached his limit. (continued…)
Matthew 5:29-32 — (Jesus said), “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.”
Almighty God, who sets the solitary in families: We commend to thy continual care the homes in which your people dwell. We pray that you put far from them every root of bitterness, all desire for vainglory, and the pride of life. Fill them with faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, and godliness. Knit together in constant affection those who, in holy wedlock, have been made one flesh. Turn the hearts of parents to the children, and the hearts of the children to the parents; and so enkindle fervent charity among us all, that we may evermore be kindly affectioned one to another. —Book of Common Prayer