The Day My Great-Grandmother Handed My Great-Grandfather Over to the Devil

Fire-Wallpaper-HDShe’s laboring over the stove to cook the children’s breakfast when he stumbles through the back door of their humble Arkansas home. Eyes bloodshot. Breath reeking. Shirt unevenly buttoned, as if done in darkness, and in haste. She doesn’t turn around to appraise his disheveled condition. No need to. More than once, more than twice, more times than she cares to remember, my great-grandmother has seen my great-grandfather looking, and smelling, like something the cat drug in.

He was a nocturnal animal, Albert was. Under the canopy of darkness he could live and move and have his fun. Transition from various bottles to various beds like an old pro. Never mind that he had fathered multiple offspring; never mind that he had a loving, godly wife weeping for him at home; never mind that the wild oats he sowed were the seeds of a dawning destruction. He did what he did, and if that disqualified him from winning husband or father of the year, there was always another beer, or another blonde, to make up for it.

“Well,” he said to Nancy, “go ahead.”

“Go ahead what?” she calmly replied, her back still turned.

“Go ahead and start your yelling and scolding and Bible-thumpin like you do every morning. ‘Where ya been? Who ya been with? What ya been drinking?’ Go on. I’m a waiting. Let’s get it over with.”

But Nancy only spooned some eggs and bacon onto a plate, poured a glass of milk, and smoothed her apron. She turned and walked slowly toward the table, her husband a few feet away, eyeing her suspiciously.

“Ain’t you gonna say nothing?” he asked as she eased by him.

She stopped and turned around to face the man to whom she was wed. She did love him. She’d been faithful to him. She had worn out her knees in prayer for his soul. She had yelled and pleaded and begged him to change, year after year, to no avail. Locking eyes with her husband that morning, Nancy calmly and clearly said, “I won’t be yelling at you to change anymore. I’ve tried. Lord knows I’ve tried.”

“Albert, I’ve handed your soul over to the devil.”

Chances are you’ve tried, at some point in your life, to be a reformer. Who was it? A spouse, child, friend, colleague, fellow church member? Something about them troubled you, maybe just irked you, so you made it your mission to get them cleaned up, to de-alcoholize them, or de-drug, or de-affair, or de-something. They were so engrossed in their pet evil that it had become a lifestyle. But you were going to change that by changing them. You’d point out the error of their ways, prophesy the looming doom that would befall them, and shepherd them toward the straight and narrow.

Maybe it worked. Praise God if it did. But maybe it didn’t, at least not when and how you wanted it to. So perhaps you supposed that if you increased the volume, he’d hear you. So you went from begging to yelling, from praying to threatening. You issued ultimatums. You pulled out the big guns. You enlisted the help of friends. But, alas, short-lived improvements notwithstanding, nothing really changed.

That is where my great-grandmother found herself. An intensely religious woman, pious and god-fearing, she knew that her husband was on a path that would end only in everlasting misery. She’d done and said all she could. She had tried to be a reformer, to make Albert change, but, stubborn as a mule, and seemingly intent on self-destruction, he had dug in his heels. So, in her own unique way, she said what she needed to say. We may agree or disagree with her; I certainly wouldn’t hold it up as the example for what women should say in troubled marriages. But, in her own way, Nancy was simply acknowledging what was true. Her husband had already handed himself over to the devil. He had plunged headlong into the darkness. She wasn’t so much giving up on her husband as giving up on herself, that is, giving up trying to be the person who changes another person. It was going to take more than her to reform the man she loved.

My great-grandfather died, many years later, a Christian man. After that fateful morning at the breakfast table, when his wife told him she had handed his soul over to the devil, something seemed to stir within him. Over time, he abandoned the booze, he quit the women, he helped tuck his children in at night, then crawled into bed with his beloved wife. No doubt he still struggled against his demons—don’t we all?—but, by the grace of God, he was rescued from the devil’s clutches and passed from this life into the kingdom of the blessed.

By the grace of God. By the gracious action of God in Jesus Christ. My great-grandfather did not change himself, nor did his wife. Jesus did. But he didn’t do it simply by issuing threats, frightening this sinner into a moral life. No, Jesus, this friend of sinners plunged himself into living death of Albert’s sad existence. On his own timetable, and in his own way, Jesus brought Albert into communion with his own crucifixion death, and raised him to newness of life in his own Easter resurrection. That is the way people are reformed. Not by making them better, but by making them dead. Dead in Christ, dead on his cross, dead in his baptism. For only when they are dead are they candidates for life. And life they have in the one who raises the dead, who himself was raised from the dead, Jesus the Christ. He entered the hellish prison in which Albert was trapped, overcame the demonic jailers, and pried open the bars to bring his child into the freedom of forgiveness and the light of life.

Then he whom Nancy had handed over to the devil, the Christ handed back to her.

ChristAloneCoverIf this reflection was helpful to you, and you’d like to read more–many more–like it, then take a look at my new book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons. This is not a collection of feel-good, saccharine devotional material. It’s hard-hitting, Gospel-giving, Christ-focused writing that takes you to the cross of Jesus again and again as the only source of healing for us. Purchase your copy by clicking on CreateSpace or Amazon. And thank you!

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5 thoughts on “The Day My Great-Grandmother Handed My Great-Grandfather Over to the Devil

  1. Lisa Casserly on said:

    This was a wonderful story. Yes, it might seem like this was a hateful thing to say… but sometimes the quiet words, bluntly spoken with grief in your heart, make a much bigger impression on someone than all the fussing, nagging, screaming and yelling. Those words, letting him know that she was sorry, but she was done chasing him and nagging about his poor choices, were a much bigger slap in the face, and truly reached him… where all the “Bible thumpin'” did not. Who is to say that this was not God’s still, small voice reaching out to him thru his wife? After all, God does work in mysterious ways.

  2. Stephen on said:

    Chad, I have a question for you I honestly can’t answer. If God doesn’t tempt us, why did He turn water in to wine, if wine can lead to alcoholism? Even if He knew that no one at a wedding would ever become an alcoholic, why would He do it anyway?

    • Stephen,
      That’s a great question. I would think of it this way. Some people abuse food by becoming gluttons; others abuse sex by pornography, immorality, adultery; and still others abuse even rest itself by becoming lazy good-for-nothings. Every gift of God can be abused. We are called to be good stewards, and good receivers of God’s gifts, whether that be wine, food, sex, work, rest, or any other gift. God isn’t tempting us. He is gifting us. And he calls us to be thankful for the gift, and not turn it into an excuse to sin.

      • stephen on said:

        Thanks Chad, but I still don’t understand. Food, sex, and rest are all necessary parts of the cycle of life. I understand why God gives us those gifts. The only person who NEEDS alcohol is the alcoholic. Therefore, I remain confused about why Jesus would turn water to wine. In case you haven’t gathered, I am struggling with a 21 year old child who is discovering the “joys” of drinking. I have little against the casual drinker ( although I wish they didn’t). I was an alcoholic for about 15 years until God took that away from me cold turkey 1 month before said child was born 21 years ago.

  3. ginny schober on said:

    I can very much relate to your writing in my own life right now.

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