Wednesday, July 07, 2010


Paula Griffiths


Pray through to victory!                                                                        
Name it; claim it by faith and it is yours! 
These were the catch cries of my church.
I named and claimed, fasted and prayed, but nothing changed.
Why was I suffering?
Why were my prayers unanswered? 
What was wrong with me?
Trying to reconcile my life with what my church taught drove me to the edge of mental breakdown.
 This is my story.
A young couple moved through the bustle of the after-church crush. Hand in hand they stood beaming at us, each waiting for the other to start. Finally the young man stammered, “We are being married… as you know. And… well… we were wondering if you… well… we thought… that instead of a song… it would be different if you two would dance during the “signing of the register.”
I looked to the young woman and she nodded enthusiastically.
“Do you have a piece of music in mind?” my husband asked.
“Well… no… but we really like that harp and flute piece you danced to during Communion last month. Something like that would be great.”
The piece was choreographed and perfected. The big day arrived. As the final notes died away and we turned to face the congregation, I saw tears in many eyes.
In a shower of smiles and confetti, the happy couple left the church. On the steps an elderly lady rushed forward and grabbed my hand. “Oh, that was so beautiful. Your love for each other shone out from every movement. Oh, and at the end when he lifted you high, gently lowered you… and directed your gaze toward heaven…well… it was just the loveliest thing. You two are such a blessing to this church.”

   My husband was away choreographing for a small theater company.  I raced home after
evening classes.  My mother met me at the door, kissed me on the cheek, and told me our two small sons had eaten all their dinner, and were tucked up in bed. I flew up the stairs, peeped into their rooms and breathed a sigh of relief; they were fast asleep. I quickly showered and changed my clothes. As I removed hairpins and shook my hair free I heard voices in the lane so gave up on fixing my makeup and raced down stairs to greet the first of our friends.
 Plates of homemade biscuits and muffins were handed to me and heavy coats and scarves removed. Our old stone cottage had a welcoming charm that drew people even on the coldest night. Everyone relaxed in their favorite chair. The rustle of pages, the soft rise and fall of voices, and the crackle of the fire were the familiar sounds of our Bible study.  Chatter and laughter during supper reached such a pitch it woke the boys.  I went upstairs to settle them again which took quite some time. Coming downstairs, I found everyone had left quietly except one friend still clearing the supper things.
“It’s lovely to come here and sit by the fire with all your quaint old stuff about… sort of an escape from the real world. I envy you, you know…beautiful home, happy marriage… Where’s the cling wrap” she called over her shoulder as she disappeared into the kitchen.
“In the old pine cupboard to the right of the fridge,” I answered from the sitting room.
I carried the last things through to find her standing with the cupboard door open.
She looked up with a troubled expression. “I didn’t know you were drinkers.”
 With a knot twisting tighter in my stomach I moved to where I could see what she could see. There behind rolls of paper towel and aluminum foil, lying on its side, almost hidden by a pile of paper serviettes, was a half-empty bottle of rum.
“Left over from the Christmas cake,” came the quick reply, but my heart sank. Would she guess my secret? 
 My husband was an alcoholic but I smiled and pretended everything was normal, for in our church, those with problems were judged as spiritual failures.  As I ushered my friend to the door I kept up a steady stream of pleasant chatter. I closed the door and leant against it wondering how long I could keep living this charade.
The charade had begun years before…
 During our courtship there had been times when I thought I detected a faint odor of alcohol about this man I loved. While warming up for a performance one evening I was certain I could smell alcohol on his breath but I did not know quite how to raise the subject so I teased him about it. He laughed, “Mouthwash… I’m just being considerate!” He kissed me and continued on with his warm up. Watching him move with such strength and ease it seemed impossible he had been drinking but I felt uneasiness in the pit of my stomach. I found myself keeping a close eye on him. Never once did I see anything out of the ordinary. At opening night parties, where the champagne flowed, he drank orange juice. I convinced myself I was just being silly, worrying over nothing.  He loved me and I loved him and a diamond sparkled on my left hand. What on earth was I worrying about!
We had been married for only a few months when, searching for a lost earring, I found a bottle hidden under the seat of his car. That was the first of many such discoveries. Our fairytale marriage became a nightmare. I begged him to stop drinking, to seek help. He promised he would, but time and time again his promises were broken.
An old friend suggested we come to church with her. At first I felt reluctant. I had tried everything else… why not try this?  I had agreed to go to church thinking it may help my husband yet Sunday after Sunday I found my own heart touched; either the words of a song or the scripture reading seemed to be just for me. I began to look forward to Sunday. I longed for the joy and peace I saw in the faces of those around me but the more I longed for that peace the more I was struck with my unworthiness. I had never felt anything like it before. I had always considered myself to be a good person yet this feeling of unworthiness would not go away.
As we left the church one Sunday morning my friend slipped a small book into my hand. Only a few weeks before I would have dropped that book straight in the rubbish bin but now I held as though it was a precious treasure.  I did not read it straight away but waited until late in the evening when I could be alone.  I read, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23) I felt a pang of doubt. What if my goodness was not enough? Could this be why I felt unworthy? How could I be sure that if there was a heaven I would go there? I continued to read through the little book. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) I struggled to understand it.  What did it mean to believe in Jesus? Did it mean to believe that He lived once, two thousand years ago, or was there more? I went to bed with no answers. The next morning I rang my friend and asked her to come over. She tenderly led me to understand that to believe in Jesus meant to put my trust in Him. She told me that no one is good enough. No one would make it to heaven if Jesus had not taken the punishment we deserve. Jesus had paid the price for my freedom that, she said, is what I had to trust in to be sure of eternal life. “He has been reaching out to you all your life and he is reaching out to you now. If you ask Him He will bring to your mind specific things for which you need to ask His forgiveness and if nothing comes to mind simply tell Him you are sorry you have ignored Him all these years and, most important of all, thank Him for paying for your freedom with His life.”
 With tears I poured it all out, the words tumbled over each other, until stillness filled my heart. Then, as my friend led me, I prayed that Jesus would come into my innermost being and be Lord of my life. I felt a joyous release. I knew I was forgiven, loved and accepted by the One Who loves perfectly. Within me was undeniable new life. “Born again” was a term I had heard but now I knew what it meant! I felt as though I had not lived until that moment. The strength of the certainty that I was loved and forgiven was like a light inside, transforming everything. Joy filled me. I tried to tell my husband but could not adequately express the feeling of release and renewal; it seemed beyond words.
 A few Sundays later, after the service was over, I noticed my husband speaking with the minister and then they slipped into the office.  I hoped my husband would tell the minister everything. During the drive home that morning my husband said nothing and I did not want to press him. The next morning the ballet company left for an extended tour. I stayed home as we had just opened a ballet school. My husband rang from his hotel room to tell me, what he had been unable to say face to face, that he had accepted Jesus as his savior. I was over joyed. If he felt as I did his drinking problem would be a thing of the past!  Once he returned home from the tour it quickly became obvious that little had changed.  I continue to find bottles. Each time he would tearfully ask my forgiveness and promise not to drink. But there would always be another bottle.
Thinking a quieter life may help he left the company and we worked in the ballet school together; picking up extra work choreographing and teaching in schools.  Once the demands of dancing professionally were gone my husband’s drinking problem became worse. I went to our minister and told him everything. The minister and his wife were discrete and supportive. They prayed with my husband and arranged for him to have counseling, making sure he attended A.A. But the pattern continued; broken promises, repentance then more broken promises. 
Around the time our first son was born a sweet move of the Holy Spirit swept through our small congregation. The joy was contagious; transforming lives and bringing many to the Lord. Our small church grew rapidly. A larger building was required and that soon filled to capacity. During those exciting years there were miraculous answers to prayer and a number dramatic healings. But not everyone was healed. My husband was not one of the blessed ones and I wondered why.
 As word of the church’s “Revival” spread, many people came from other churches, bringing with them new ideas. These newcomers said those who were not healed “lacked faith” or were “in secret sin” Books on prayer and spiritual warfare circulated through the congregation. These books claimed that if prayers were to be answered, special phrases and verses of scripture must be spoken and both the person being prayed for and the one praying must be without sin.  Our minister tried to stem the flow of these ideas but he simply could not; they grew and took hold. What began as a trickle soon became a flood.
Our minister and a number of the original congregation left but we stayed. This new teaching made sense to me. There had to be a reason my prayers remained unanswered. Maybe I had not been praying the right words. Maybe I was in sin and did not know it?  I began to search my life for things that may not be right. I stopped going to the cinema and gave up choreographing Jazz Ballet. Contact with friends outside the church became less and less.
A new minister came to lead the church and with his coming the focus and teaching of the church swung towards the extreme. He preached that a Christian’s birth right was health and wealth; that suffering came only to those who were not right with God.  Weekend seminars were held to teach us how to pray. There seemed to be so many rules.
 The only close friends who knew of my husband’s problems had left the church; to those who remained we were the ideal couple; the beautiful dancers with the beautiful home and the beautiful children. My husband made it easy to keep up the illusion of the “beautiful couple”. Attending church every Sunday, he appeared to be a committed Christian. Always loving and attentive toward me and our two little sons, he seemed the model husband. He never slurred his words or became violent or silly. His tolerance of alcohol was so high even I found it hard to tell if he had been drinking. His poise rarely wavered, and he was never without his peppermints. Money missing from our bank account, my purse, or the ballet school cash draw was the only sure indicators he was drinking heavily. I would confront him, he would deny it. I would yell, he would cry and ask me to forgive him.  He would assure me he was, “trying so hard,” and “had been dry for weeks but had slipped up just this once.” The scene was repeated over and over again. He could not bring himself to admit the extent of his problem. He wanted to be sober, he wanted me to think he was sober, he wanted my respect and the respect of the church, yet he simply could not beat this thing. I loved him dearly and saw his pain. I longed to help him. Years of prayer and fasting as the church taught brought no release, yet I did not give up hope. I firmly believed it was only a matter of continuing in prayer. God would heal my husband! I had no doubt.

      My muscles ached. Saturday was a long exhausting day when my husband was working away. I taught every class without break.  After the luxury of a long bath I snuggled into bed. The sheets were cool and crisp to the touch.  Stretching across to my husband’s side, I took his pillows and propped myself up. Tonight I could read as long as I wanted; he would not be home until Sunday evening.
     I woke with a start. The light was still on; my book lay open where it had fallen. A car started and quickly accelerated, its note droning off into the distance. I turned off the light, rolled over, and fell into a deep sleep.
     Getting two little boys dressed in time for church is a struggle for two parents. On my own it seemed to take three times as long.
     “Quickly boys, hop in the car. If we don’t hurry, we’ll be late.”
     Number one son jumped from the back seat to the front to play driving as I buckled up his brother. “Look, Mummy, there’s a letter on the steering wheel!”
     Even from the back seat I recognized my husband’s writing. How could this be–wasn’t he miles away? Then I remembered the car driving off in the middle of the night. With trembling hands I pulled the note off the steering wheel. As I read my throat tightened.  The boy’s chatter seemed to come from a far distance. I was alone with my fear.
      I have been drinking again and no longer want to put you through the heartache.”
     This had the sound of a suicide note.
  I frantically called the company he had gone to work with the day before only to be told that he had not worked with them for months. I then called anyone and everyone who might know where he could be. Finally I rang the police and reported him missing. I desperately prayed he was safe.
     Days passed into weeks with no clue. Night after night my little boys would cry for their daddy and ask where he was and when he was coming back. I tried to comfort them, holding them close. Their sobs tore at my own pain, making it almost unbearable. I longed to make the empty promise that daddy would be home soon, anything to ease their pain.
Students and parents whispered about my husband’s sudden disappearance. Gossip quickly spread to the wider community, so it was not long before the truth was uncovered. My husband had run off with another woman, who had left her husband and children. Pain tore through my heart, but there was greater pain to come.
In a city as small as ours it is usually impossible to keep anything a secret, yet I had never heard the gossip that had been common knowledge. With my husband gone, people came forward to tell me what they knew; first the lady at our corner shop, then my hairdresser. Shock followed shock, blow after blow. I would still be trying to come to terms with one startling revelation when another would hit me.
 At first I could not accept what I was hearing. It seemed unbelievable, a soap-opera plot—yet there were too many stories that verified each other. As the pieces came together, I could no longer deny the obvious. The bitter reality was, from the very beginning of our marriage, my husband had been living a double life. The affairs were so numerous, he must have moved straight from one conquest to another. There could never have been a time when he was not involved with someone else.
There was one final knockout blow and it sent me reeling. Some of those affairs had been with men. I thought I knew him! During all the years of dancing together, I never suspected this!  Waiting for results of an A.I.D.’s test was agonizing; it was weeks before I knew it was clear.
Pain engulfed me, consumed me. I struggled to comprehend the scope of the deception. My life was an unfamiliar landscape and I was lost in it. Nothing had been as it seemed, even happy memories were now tainted. Gnawing pain made it impossible to sleep. Night after night I sat alone in the dark. The crackle of the fire and its soft glow usually brought some comfort but one night I noticed the firelight reflecting on our photos. Our smiling faces seemed to mock me. The happy life those photos showed had never existed. Our whole marriage had been a lie. Anger fueled by grief welled up. One by one I removed each photo from its frame and burnt it. With shaking hands I pulled the albums from the bookcase and did not stop until every memento of our years together had been consigned to the flames.
On those sleepless nights my thoughts whirled with endless questions. I asked myself how I could have been so blind. How I could have lived with him all these years and not seen, not suspected? Those questions filled me with self-doubt.  Other questions brought doubt of a different kind, doubt that tore at the very fabric of my faith.
Why had God allowed this to happen? Where did I go wrong? Could I have done more? Should I have prayed more, fasted longer? Was there some key or formula I had missed? Nothing made sense anymore. I balanced on a tiny square of faith. My one piece of solid ground was that Jesus had died for me, that I was saved. Past the edges of that tiny square was an abyss of nothingness. I had no faith to pray; it now seemed futile to pray. I had prayed for years and it had come to nothing. I longed for God, for the trust and the certainty I had known, but they had slipped away; I could not reach them.
 I could no longer trust God, and because I could not trust Him, I felt overwhelming guilt. Doubt and guilt were like twin enemies who followed me day and night, sucking me into black waters. I was drowning—trying to cling to what I believed, yet there was nothing to hold me up.


Caroline said...

Wow. Amazing! Want to read more.

Pam Glover said...

Yes, indeed. How can I buy the rest? Excellent narrative.