We'd barely been seated and handed our menus when Alan began to pour out the details of his difficult marriage in agonizing emotional heaves. We learned his wife, Diane, suffered from terrible premenstrual syndrome as well as bouts of depression. When she wasn't depressed and withdrawn, she was angry and hostile, given to unpredictable behavior and fits of temper.
Alan's wound was raw and deep from 20 years of married hopelessness.
For more than an hour, we listened and empathized completely. After lunch we found a more private place nearby and together prayed with him. Valerie penciled the names "Alan and Diane" in her calendar at the top of each month. And for the next year, she prayed for them whenever she saw their names.
"Oh God, heal Diane's PMS," she'd pray. "Heal their family. Bring wholeness to this home." It was a prayer based in a certain amount of ignorance. A prayer prescription telling God how we'd like to see him work.
A year passed and we saw Alan again. As before, he skipped the usual social banter and plunged into serious conversation. But his story had changed.
Was this the same man? we wondered. Now we were hearing a different version about his marriage. It wasn't so one-sided or cut-and-dry as before—that is, "Diane's the cause of all our problems, and the kids and I are her undeserving victims." We asked specifically about how Diane was doing and waited for the PMS war stories. But surprisingly, he didn't complain about her. Instead, he was excited to tell us about some of the changes in his life.1