Recently, I asked Youngest son if I could take him out to lunch. We’d talk about his options and future without any interjected comments from other family members. Just the two of us. My treat.
He said, “Not only no, hell no.”
I was shocked and frustrated that my invitation was met with defensiveness. Mom you’re just gonna pressure me to get a job. He’d seen my offer as a way to nag him about doing something, anything, for gawdsake don’t be a slacker, get a job.
My feelings were hurt. I thought I was doing a nice thing for my son. But did I have a hidden agenda? Gulp.
I looked at it from his perspective. Immediately his fear rose up, baring its fangs, as depression took over his mind. He already thought he was hopeless! He’d interpreted my invite as proof that he was a loser who couldn’t do much except drink alcohol. He’d even seen a free lunch as another attempt to force him to stop.
His feelings were hurt, too.
Familiar emotions strangled me too: guilt that I hadn’t made any progress in shepherding either of my grown live-in sons to recovery. Shame that somehow, I caused this. Anger, that we’re all so darned dysfunctional.
Most of all, sadness. Every foray I made into the addiction fortress was met with a slammed door and a raised drawbridge. Then there was the moat, brackish and deep and full of unseen danger. Of course, I fell in, flailed and splashed, desperate to escape.
But here’s the funny thing—the creepy dark water, crowded with alligators—was where God showed up, swimming beside me. I cried out as I treaded water. “Why? Why can’t I do this right?”
Instead of asking, “What do you need?” I’d leapfrogged to “What can/will you do?”
Instead of an answer, I got more questions. Do you love? Yes, yes of course. Do you understand how your son feels? I dogpaddled furiously to avoid snapping jaws. Boy, now I do. How about helping me out of here? The predators retreated. Heavenly laughter shook the earth, as if to say. “Now you’re making progress.”
Then, I was on dry ground, sopping wet but lighter. And changed.
In wanting to connect, I’d skipped some crucial steps. My real goal had never been to enjoy a nice lunch with my son. I wasn’t thinking of hanging out because I liked being with him. However subconsciously, I’d wanted to buttonhole him into action.
Instead of asking him, “What do you need?” I’d leapfrogged to “What can/will you do?”
His defenses had alerted. To him, our family is often a circular moat full of alligators and leeches. Sadly, he thinks we’re always looking for opportunity like a gator sizing up prey. Some might say, “Why not? He obviously needs to stop drinking.”
But I’m learning that you can’t skip over relationship to get to change.
You can’t skip over relationship to get to change.
Jesus was all about connection and relationship. Love one another. Treat others the way you wish to be treated. Again and again, He demonstrated that we connect best over brokenness. Most of us identify more closely with others who have experienced similar pain or grief. Share our common humanity, and no matter how broken, we can connect with one another.
When our loved ones suffer from Substance Use Disorder, the pain we feel is isolating and lonely. Society urges us to deny, to bury, to keep our agony a secret. The “normal” playbook—accept ones who play by the rules, reject those who can’t—pushes us into a corner where tough love, enabling and codependency wait to shove us into the moat again. The pressure to “do something” can get in the way when we try to omit relationship-building from the steps to seeing our loved ones change.
Falls into the moat are cold and unpleasant, but they teach me important things. First, I need to work on building a more positive relationship with my son by demonstrating that I not only love him deeply, but that I like him too. I’ll appreciate his good qualities and try to catch him being good.
Second, I’ll pay more attention to his demeanor and ask, “What do you need?” instead of, “What can/will you do?” Finally, I’ll try to remember that every time I bellyflop into deep water, God is there, doing the backstroke beside me.
I wish my son was ready to recover. I wish I’d been more thoughtful before I approached him. I wish God didn’t pick a murky moat to show up in. But hope is bigger than wishes. Hope shines best in brokenness, where we love one another without an agenda. I hope to keep building meaningful connections with those I love.
Someday soon I’ll ask my son out to lunch again, no strings attached. If I’m lucky, we’ll dine at Café Broken, where we can eat good food, re-connect and maybe even share some laughs. I hope he’ll decide to trust me. I hope he’ll say yes.