4. After The Victory
As and when your loved one quits the bottle for good, your problems
may not be over. Consider this strange but true statistical phenomena:
A relatively large number of partners welcome back their ex-alcoholic
partner into family life. He or she remains sober. But they... leave
the dried out partner and marry...another alcoholic. Why and how
ever could this be? During the period of alcoholism, the partner
[especially a woman] takes total authority. They have to make decisions
with no reference to the alcoholic. They know best. They are in
an extraordinary position of power in the relationship. On drying
out, the family or relationship must return to what it was before-
a bonding of equals, with no manipulation, superiority, despising
of the other. And this is actually incredibly hard. The implications
of forgiving the alcoholic practically have to be thought through.
It really is hard, very hard. And again, fellowship with others
who have been through the same will be of great help.
The parable of the elder brother needs to be thought through. Perhaps
this was the essential message of the parable. The elder brother
was basically jealous and full of self-pity. He felt that his years
of patient obedience [and surely he over-rated his own righteousness!]
had all been forgotten just because the prodigal had returned. He
forgave nothing- he ran on about how the prodigal had spent his
father’s livelihood on whores. His brother’s former sins were utmost
in his mind even after his brother had so clearly reformed. And
the result was tragic- he no longer wanted to be part of his Father’s
fellowship. All because he would not truly forgive.
In the end, the question will arise for all involved with the tragedy
of alcoholism: Why me? Why am I an alcoholic...why was my destiny
to live with an alcoholic? Without an acceptance that God not only
really exists but has a serious, powerful plan to manifest Himself
in us, and that all aspects of our lives are guided to ultimately
enable this, these questions remain tragically unanswered in many
unbelieving minds. I am convinced that a just God will not ultimately
try any of His children more than others. We must each take up the
cross. No matter how many times we stumble and fall whilst bearing
it- and even our Lord did this in His final walk to Golgotha- we
are to be dominated by the image of cross-carrying discipleship
after Him. The way, the path, the channel which each of us is given
by our Lord will vary. For some it will be alcohol; for others,
living with marital unfaithfulness, narcotics, physical or mental
disability. And so the list goes on, as and if we could survey the
private struggles of each of God’s children. We each have our path
to the cross, to the attempted imitation of Christ to which we are
each undeniably, unavoidably called.
As my friend Steve Johnson put it to me once as mystified by events
we drove through the snowy fields of Latvia: “It’s the process,
not the product”. Or as another dear friend John Stibbs put it to
me in the heat of a personal tragedy in suburban Australia, sitting
together on a steamy Brisbane veranda: “It’s the ride, not the destination”.
As Gregory of Nyssa put it in his Life of Moses : “Virtue
is discovered not so much in the attaining as in the trying, the
struggling, the running of the race”. Whether or not your family
member quits their alcoholism isn’t quite the point, ultimately.
It’s your reaction to it, which prepares you for the ultimate destination
of the Kingdom. And this is the only end point which is of
ultimate consequence, hard as it is to grasp as we live out our
lives in a world bent on personal happiness in the here and now.
I know how it seems that God is so unfairly distant from you in
these crises. Try to grasp the spirit of Manoah, who so wanted God
to intervene directly, to send an Angel and tell him what he was
to do with his son Samson. “The angel of the Lord did no more appear
to Manoah and to his wife. Then Manoah knew that he was the Angel
of the Lord” (Jud. 13:21). It was the very absence of God’s
direct appearance in his life that in the end persuaded Manoah that
truly, he did have a fully valid relationship with Him. May you
know this to be true for you, as so many others have. The Lord Jesus
had a way of gently turning comments and questions back on the person
who made them, and of redefining the terms used. A man told Him
once that he would follow him “whithersoever thou goest”, i.e. to
whatever end point the road may lead to. The Lord replied that He
had nowhere to lay His head. In other words, it’s the following
of Him that we need to focus on, rather than the hardness of some
possible great future sacrifice that may lie ahead. It’s the road,
and not the destination, that are important (Mt. 8:19-21).
Jeremiah saw his beloved people consumed by the results of their
own actions and attitudes. He realized that there but for God’s
grace would have gone all of them. Jeremiah thanked God: “It is
of the Lord’s mercies that we [this is where the emphasis
is] are not consumed [i.e., as they have been], because his compassions
fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.
The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in
him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that
seeketh him” (Lam. 3:22-25).