The trials and tribulations of life that come our way need not necessarily be caused by the wrongs we have done, nor the sins we have committed. The way people choose to treat and relate to us, is often beyond our control.
This is because every person has his or her own perceptions, and ways of coping with life’s challenges. The quality of our living is significantly influenced by our focus and outlook. Are we a person of faith who is focused on Jesus and His Church, or are we strongly influenced by our “self-serving” and wounded world views of life?
A good friend of mine shared this true story of Carol and Richard (not their real names) with me.
Carol and Richard were my next door neighbours. Richard, the husband, was a freelance contractor who had anger management and dominance issues. He often inflicted upon his family verbal abuse and bad language. Under years of abuse, Carol, his wife, became timid and fearful of everything, even as she worked hard to support their three teenage sons as the main breadwinner of the family.
One day, Carol came over to my place; crying uncontrollably; sharing that Richard wanted a divorce. This was the fifth time he had threatened divorce. I listened and tried to calm her down. As Carol’s visits became more frequent, I found myself sharing my faith with her. I shared how the Lord has stood by me, given me strength and lifted me through my darkest moments and how He continues to guide, teach and show me mercy for the things I have done wrong.
By God’s providence, Carol bumped into an old friend of hers who underwent a similar ordeal and was serving as an RCIA sponsor. Some weeks later, Carol joined the RCIA journey and was baptised a year later. In the meantime, I continued to provide solace to her whenever she needed. Traumatised by Richard’s abusive language, Carol would often return home when he was out or after he had gone to bed.
Two years into their “cold war”, Richard was diagnosed with terminal cancer. In spite of their turbulent relationship, Carol found herself moved with compassion for him. Nevertheless, Richard insisted that she apologise to him for her past “wrongs”. With God’s sustaining grace, Carol humbled herself and apologised.
Throughout the next year, she selflessly served and took care of her husband and their children. As Richard’s condition worsened, he was admitted to the Assisi Hospice for the last stretch of his life and Carol attended to him with very little rest for the last two months.
As Carol cared for Richard, God gave her the wisdom to open up and gently describe how she felt during their many painful moments together. Richard having to face the reality of his imminent death, finally began to face the truth of his life. Through God’s grace, he began to realise, to his horror, the miseries and agonies that he had caused his wife and their young children.
Although deeply wounded by his cruelty, Carol, with God’s strength, cared for Richard till the end with a forgiving love and was never bitter. Finally, Richard prayed, “Lord, I don’t deserve such love from my dear wife. Thank You for sending her into my life, for without her, I would have destroyed everyone in the family, including my vulnerable children.”
Joined in repentance and grief, they reconciled and freed each other from deep-seated anger and resentment. Several weeks later, Richard was baptised a Catholic, and passed away peacefully a month later. Richard’s aged mother too was baptised a Catholic several months later.
Carol was able to relate to Richard with care and love, regardless of the pain he had caused her and their children, because of the divine grace of Christ. She was able to persevere and transcend her pain because her heart was rooted in Christ.
Her faith gave her the needed strength and wisdom to be a quiet yet powerful witness of Christ’s self-emptying love. This in turn, brought much-needed healing and the grace of humility to embrace the Truth of Christ; ultimately bringing about Richard’s conversion of heart.
We are all called to do likewise.
Msgr Heng is Rector of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd.