Fr. Dale Matson
Family Crisis And Faith
It was the demons that recognized who Jesus was even before the disciples.
“I know who you are, the Holy One of God." It is also the demons and struggles in our own lives that reinforce this fact. The calamities in our life show us who Jesus is. In this season of Epiphany, The glory and divinity of Christ is gradually revealed. He holds the power when we are powerless. “Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace.” Our opening collect reminds me of a song we often sang in Sunday school. “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”
What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and grief’s to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Our family is no different than your family. We have had joys and we have suffered setbacks. As I tell our story over the last 20 years, I would like you folks to reflect on your struggles and triumphs, your sorrows and your moments of joy.
Before our noon and evening meals, Sharon and I pray about our concerns for the day. Generally, we begin our prayers with thanksgiving for the many blessing we have received. We then pray prayers of petition for things like rain in due season, and prayers of intercession, which tend to be for friends and family members. For emergencies, we light a prayer candle on our mantle.
Most of these prayers involve things we have no control over. This is true even in the lives of our own family members. Sharon and I have a blended family. She has two sons and I have two sons from previous marriages. We are in our 22nd year together and have experienced many difficulties during this period. I don’t believe however that we are any different than any other parents here. It seems like childhood is filled with scraped knees and worse. Sharon and I were in the emergency room on a number of occasions. From a social-emotional standpoint, the teen years are when other things begin to happen. It is when the “wheels begin to come off” as they say today.
At the beginning of our marriage we each had a son with drug and alcohol problems. The youngest son lived with us and was drug tested as a condition for his remaining with us. He resented it and us deeply. I told Sharon that each day he was drug free would be a day he could look back on and know what normal was. My oldest son lived in Fresno and struggled with drugs and alcohol. He also suffered from a familial depression. It was an embarrassment to enter his apartment and see the filth that surrounded him. It was 23 years ago and I can still see the beer and whiskey bottles piled high as if to say, “I need help”. Eventually he lost his job and stopped paying his rent and was out on the street. It was difficult, nearly impossible to talk to him. His pitiful life was an open wound in my side. For all intents and purposes we were estranged from one another.
At the same time Sharon’s younger son and I were in a constant battle about his responsibilities and lack of respect for those in authority over him. He had no respect for any of us including his biological father. When his father was away from home, he would have drinking and pot parties at his house. He even used abusive language toward us on occasion. He was struggling to find an identity different from his older brother the superstar. I hoped he would not decide to become his anti-brother. I hoped he would not wind up in jail or dead. And we prayed and we prayed.
In the meantime my older son continued to treat his depression with alcohol. We considered the possibility that he would become a street person. He was filled with a seething rage toward the world and I worried he might consider suicide. He got a DUI and had his driver’s license taken away. I gave him my bicycle to get to his place of employment. He lost that job too. Things like this are the nightmare of parents who are worried that this will reflect negatively on them too. Have you worried about this also? I have a photograph of him and his younger brother seated beside me on a bed. It is on my dresser and every time I passed it, I used to think to myself, “What happed”. Every time I looked at those innocent and trusting eyes, I thought about those two souls entrusted to me by God. We second-guessed ourselves as parents. Were we too easy? Were we too hard? And we prayed and we prayed for our children.
And all this time God was working in our lives and orchestrating things and circumstances that forced me to look in the mirror at myself. Sharon told me once after a phone call I made to my son, “You don’t talk to him like you talk to anyone else.” I was harsh. I was disappointed and no matter how I tried, it came out in the way I would talk with him. Have you sensed this too?
What I have noticed is the best advice of Christ in this situation, is to pray for our enemies and unfortunately sometimes are enemies are our own children. Our children are our legacy. They either are an accomplishment or a symptom of how we have led our lives. If only we could be “Off duty” as parents but that is never the case. And we pray and we pray.
I have two friends with doctorates that I have known for many years. Neither had any contact with their children. I know it bothered them but they were too proud, too stubborn to reach out to their children. They have “moved on” but can you really move on from your children? How would that look on Curriculum Vitae? “I moved on from my children.” One parent has passed on. Reconciliation is no longer an option.
One day about ten years ago I got a call from my daughter-in-law that my son was in the hospital. He had suffered a seizure. He had tried to quit drinking on his own and gone into the Delirium Tremens (DTs). I remember seeing him in the emergency room and kissing him for the first time in many years. My heart was just broken for this desperate son of mine. He has been sober ever since and held the same job. Thank You Jesus! We have said this short prayer so often.
Our youngest son graduated from college and spent the next two years learning Spanish in Spain and South America. He went to work for an investment company. He left us and came back a man who had earned my respect. In fact his financial advice helped us out during a difficult time for us. This was the same person who never turned off the light when he left his room.
We have another son who lives back east with his family. He was a real “go getter” most of his life and has two masters’ degrees. He teaches at a local high school and the kids love him. He has been struggling lately and has been on medication for depression. We talk once a week and try and get to see his family a couple of times a year. Lord, please help him and his family. We pray and we pray
Our adult children have blessed us with children, our grandchildren, and we started the process over again. We child proofed our house. We put latches on cabinet doors and we worry about their health. We have backup pacifiers on hand. We send the parents articles warning about this or that just like our parents did for us. And we pray and we pray.
Our late Bishop John David Schofield, who never married, told us that our family came first. Last week we did not attend our potluck meal before our voters meeting. One of our grandsons had his second birthday party during that time. It was his day. It was a family day also.
We are expecting the birth of our 7th grandson soon. He will be named after Sharon’s older brother Jim who lost his battle with cancer last year.
In all of this, I can say that the drama of our lives has been greater than I ever expected. We still gather here for holidays and begin with a prayer before our meal. Getting everyone together is kind of like herding cats.
While folks are putting money away for their retirement, they should also be thinking of the social safety net they are creating also. There is nothing like sickness to isolate us, give us cause for despair, to make us retreat from life. Having family around means we help one another during those down times. We bring meals, send cards, babysit and feed the goldfish and other pets when they are away.
When we gather together I am content to take a back seat, to ask questions, to laugh and listen to the stories told by excited children gasping for air. Cleanup after the meals is my specialty but I get help from the next generation, those folks who not long ago did not pick up after themselves and left their music and lights on in their rooms. They still make questionable choices but I often seek their input now on purchases and what new things are coming down the road. They are not so threatened by the pace of change.
So, this is the Grace God has bestowed upon us over the last 21 years. Sharon has been a helpmate in God’s plan. I am richer for the experiences and have proceeded in the light of Jesus Christ. The trips to the emergency room, the battles with rebellious children are over and the demons of daily life have demonstrated to me again and again to trust in the Lord. This story is no different than your story. This is not a personal testimony; it is a family testimony. It is a story of patience, endurance, commitment, respect and love. Tincture of time and God’s timely intervention has caused this family to prosper. A commitment to family is a commitment to teamwork and negotiation. It is a decision to love one another and weather the storms of disagreement.
For those of you who are estranged from your family members, I urge you to seek reconciliation. It is a submission that leads to strength. From there we are told to go to the latter parts of the earth but first we must learn to forgive and love in our families. Amen