The Next Faithful Step
You Can't Quit Smoking for Someone Else
A Pastor's Reflection
“Can you do something about this?” Bob asked me as we sat together in my office. “This is just what happened with our son and his wife. It is happening right now with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. I just know this isn’t what God wants for her… it’s not what I want either.” Bob was one of the patriarchs of the church. He was in his early eighties and he and his wife, who had recently died, were not only long time members of the church, they were among the spiritual powerhouses of the church. They knew the scriptures. They loved the people of God. They prayed feverishly. And so I was not surprised to be having this conversation with Bob.
Bob’s granddaughter, Patty, had just recently gotten engaged to her boyfriend of a year or so and they had decided to move in together. They found an apartment in a nearby city and were in the process of making the move. Patty was also a member, along with both her father and mother, who had divorced several years ago. Patty’s mother and father had lived together before they had gotten married and now her mother had just bought a house with her boyfriend. Bob was sad and concerned about the clear trend leading up to Patty’s decision and so had asked to meet with me to have a talk. “Can you do something about this?” Bob asked.
The answer was yes and no. Of course I could do something. I could have a talk with Patty and her fiancé as their pastor (the finance had been attending the church sporadically with Patty for the last year). I could share with them what the church has traditionally believed and condoned and I could tell them what I believed was truly best and most healthy for them and their relationship with God and each other. And this is, in fact, what I eventually did. Patty and her fiancé came to me asking to do their wedding and so the door was clearly open for a conversation (and I felt my own pastoral integrity demanded it at that point). So, yes, I could do something.
But, from another perspective, there wasn’t something I could do. Bob seemed to have a particular perspective on the problem and the possible solution. It was as if I as the pastor was the tool to wield in order to get the job done—as if the problem was so simple as to be able to be fixed if he just found the right device. The problem, however, was much deeper than that. Yes, I could talk to them—and maybe even be convincing. But I couldn’t be Patty’s grandfather for her. As important, powerful, and a gift of grace the Church’s standards and traditions are, they can’t—and don’t—parent and grandparent people. Sure, some things can be fixed by consulting the rules. But outside of board game disputes, things are not always so easy. To be fair, Bob wasn’t just expecting me to sit Patty down and share with her the rules of the faith. He wanted a pastor to love and care for her and stand as an authority on what the Church believes and hopes for. And this I could do. But she, and the family, needed something more than this. They needed a father and grandfather who could share with them himself his understanding of faith and life in the intimate context of a loving family.
In the end, Patty and her fiancé decided to change their living arrangement until the wedding. They kept the apartment, but Patty went back home to live with her dad. Problem solved? Technically—but this means it was only solved in part. I worry that Bob was just kicking the can down to the next generation.