Seeking Help from Pastors #2
At 10 a.m on Saturday morning I watched Peter take a drink from his second glass of wine and recognized the “festive” attitude that meant he would be having more. He had decided to take the boat and go fishing on the Colorado River, with his little buddy, 2-year old Emily (who had a mild virus and fever).
How could I prevent him from taking Emily on his drunken trip without “creating” rage, resistance, retaliation? I was poised for the usual, though still unpredictable, battle of wits that would determine today’s outcome, the mood for the next weeks, and how open he would be to other concerns in the future. It was MY RESPONSIBILITY. Who else was there to BE responsible? I had kids to protect. I was tense and focused. I wanted a peaceful Saturday with my family, and knew that wasn’t going to happen today, but was the ONLY ONE who had any way to minimize the intensity, IF I handled it very, very wisely. If I had the right tone, right words, right logic, the right…..whatever.
I doubt I prayed right then; I don’t remember. But I was prayed up for sure – on my knees, on my face, and even curled up in the recliner trying to imagine I was sitting in my Father’s lap, or beside Peter’s bedside or the sofa where he initially slept most nights. And I knew the Word, having at that point read through the Bible front to back, including the “begats,” while asking for understanding. And church. And Bible study.
I told Peter the truth: “Emily has a fever; she could get chilled on the river; she should stay home.” He tilted his head and adopted a patronizing, mocking tone: ” …It’s 90 degrees!” he said. I said, “It’s cooler on the river.” He turned to leave with Emily. I made eye contact and said: “YOU ARE NOT TAKING EMILY FISHING.” (The direct approach was rarely effective, but then… neither was an indirect approach; this time I lost my composure….Emily was NOT going fishing today).
Loud, angry words both directions, pretty much concluding with me blurting: “She’s not going because you are a drunk, and I don’t trust you to take care of her.” Nice. Good job. Smart. So much for submission, honoring my husband, and turning away wrath with a quiet word!
THEN, I was afraid. Afraid of the way he thought about me, the guns in the house (hunter), his rage, his very intelligent and twisted logic, and the potential for trouble later, how the backlash might affect the girls, how I would handle….whatever. I called the pastor, and somehow it was agreed we would meet him for counseling. Together.
How could I explain it all to a pastor in a session with my husband? And stay constructive? And credible? So I wrote a 4-page letter for the pastor to read before we met with him. I told him how I was called a bitch, a frigid, bitch, a fucking asshole bitch, a cold-calculating-conniving bitch. And how, on the days I was called a bitch, he was ESPECIALLY romantic later (but angry if I wasn’t responsive enough). I told him about the nightly liter of wine or six-pack, and Peter waking up to pee in the corner, or on the dresser … or the kid’s closet….or? And I told him about the guns in the house, and that I was afraid of not knowing how angry or weird Peter could become!
We met in the Pastor’s office at the church. I was wary of not having issues addressed, and of possible backlash later. But, since I was equally wary of doing nothing, it was moot. Wary, scared, tense – and desperately, vulnerably HOPEFUL – that someone else’s voice and input would matter, since mine didn’t. Pastor B gently and genially asked questions: What were the concerns? How is your sex life? Do you use alcohol? When, and do you think it is an appropriate amount?
At the end of the meeting, I recall that he encouraged Peter to be “gentle” with me. And that Peter and Pastor B had calmly discussed that, no – a beer before church isn’t such a bad thing. As we walked out of the office, I started crying. Pastor B took me aside and explained that he was taking it easy to keep communication open, which I totally understood and supported. The tears were relief (at having named my fears, and having hope of help), and simply release of pent-up tension. Peter’s take on the meeting: “Well, even Pastor B sees nothing wrong with a few beers before church!”
I didn’t push for another meeting. Obviously, neither did Peter. VERY SADLY, neither did Pastor B. Things remained pretty much as they were before the meeting. I was lucky (or blessed?) that in my case, things didn’t get violent.
Pastor’s Wise Choice #1: Keeping Communication Open. Should Pastor B have dug deeper with Peter and boldly confronted his “sin” as he dealt harshly with his wife? Would it have just given Peter an excuse to be angry and end all communication, if he had? I don’t know. I understand keeping communication open, because so often it is a PROCESS or COLLECTION of small pieces of wisdom that actually produce change – if change is going to happen at all. If Pastor B hoped to be able to “disciple” Peter, he didn’t dare shut his ears in one sitting. On the other hand, by saying so little, he said, well…..so little.
Pastor’s Wise Choice # 2: He DID NOT tell me to go home and be more submissive! May God bless this man every day of his life!
Pastor’s Mistake #1: Counseling the abuser and the victim together. First, it is scary (and very, very embarrassing) to talk about intimate and awkward marriage issues in front of another person, an authority figure, that you may not know very well. How effective is it to put an already arrogant, entitled man in a position where his wife “talks bad” about him to the Pastor, then send them home together so she can face another day of “pay backs?” THIS IS NOT ONLY AWKWARD, IT IS POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS…AS IN LIFE THREATENING. How likely is it that the wife will feel safe enough to tell what is actually happening, without minimizing it for her own safety, psychological or physical? NOT VERY.
Pastor’s Mistake #2: Not following through. What good was it to keep communication open if there was no further communication (that I was aware of, or that made any difference).
Pastor’s Mistake #3: Not preaching specific marriage behaviors that indicate RESPECT from the pulpit on a regular basis. At the time, and ever since, I have heard many sermons on marriage. They all cover 1) the ideal Christian marriage, 2) submission and love, either wives to husbands, or each spouse to the other, and 3) the evils of divorce. Abusive husbands are MASTERS at using all or parts of these sermons to hammer their wives with their wifely failures. And abused wives are MASTERS at clinging even more to the HOPE that one day that is the way their marriages will be, and trying even HARDER to be the kind of wife that will make it happen (by submission, patience, self control, walking by faith rather than sight, and a thousand other Biblical recommendations). Which fuels the cycle of abuse. She tries to be perfect; he abuses. Instead, sermons need to set a specific standard of NO EXCUSES for men – that yelling, tantrums, pushing, shoving, name calling, regarding their wives concerns as less important than theirs, not listening to their wives’ counsel, being sexually insensitive, controlling or manipulating with money, isolating wives from family or friends, belittling, insulting, and using humor that isn’t funny to both parties – are all ABUSE and are all SIN. AND that the saying “I’m not perfect, just forgiven” does not apply here. Simply addressing the evils of divorce without such specific teaching is like applying a band-aid to a limb severed because no one teaches that saw blades are sharp.
2 Corinthians 5:7 (NIV) For we live by faith, not by sight.
Ephesians 5:21-24 (NIV) Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
This is pretty definite. Submit as you do to the Lord. I’d say submission to the Lord would be pretty unconditional. So what if the husband is harsh, mentally ill, or even evil? If a Christian, lay or pastor, quotes this to an abused Christian woman, who is desperate not to lose God’s favor, what is he/she actually telling her to do? If she does submit unconditionally, does God really provide special protection for her and their children’s lives, health, FAITH? Are you sure? Have you ever seen it work that way?
Would the verses above apply to letting a drunk husband take a young child fishing? Or to continuing hope for a healthy marriage?