Relationships, You & Your Family

When doing your utmost still isn’t enough

When doing your utmost still isn't enough

Life’s stories do not always have happy endings. Often, the endings are unexpected. Now this may fly in the face of some of us who consider ourselves somehow protected or blessed in life. Some believers may also hold fast to God’s promise in Jeremiah 29:11 of his plans to prosper and not to harm.

I think of two particular clients who unfortunately feel that this is not true for them. Working with them over many months, I can attest to the fact that they did whatever was humanly possible. They also went to the Lord with many prayers and petitions. They recruited the help of sympathetic family and friends. In short, no stone was left unturned to look for some breakthrough.

The first case involved a woman with an unfaithful husband. The infidelity went on for years and even after forgiving him and giving him another chance, he failed her. She then decided to divorce him in an effort to push him to mend his ways. The hope they both had was that he would change and they might eventually reconcile and even remarry. Alas, after two more years of trying and hoping, he went back to his old ways.

The second was a male client who had been abusive to his spouse. After 10 years in such a hurtful relationship, the wife managed to break free and leave him. He pleaded for a second chance, attended the therapy that his wife said he needed and even sought the counsel and support of their religious community. Even after no contact at all for almost two years and intermediaries’ efforts to intercede, she decided to divorce him based on his past violent behaviour.

Both parties were at a loss as to what they could have done to avoid such an outcome. After both had exhausted all humanly possible ways to salvage their marriages, they threw themselves at the foot of the cross in complete despair.

Family and marital therapists find it rather challenging when confronted with situations that show no improvement or good outcomes. And when a client comes continually looking for help and hope, it can be very discouraging when we too, see no way forward. It is at such times that as therapists, we confront the client with the fact that everything has been attempted and it may be time to face the inevitability of no progress.

The next therapeutic task then is to help such individuals face the losses that confront them and learn to move on with their lives. As helpers, it is important for us to stay with them, especially in their state of despair and sadness. We must resist the temptation to be irrationally optimistic or try to be a cheerleader to those who are despairing. As we stay with them and listen to their woes, the process can make us feel, in some minute way, what the client may be experiencing. Such a demonstration of empathy lets them know that they are understood and not alone. In some small way, this helps some clients cope, if only for that moment of time.

As I reflect on this topic, I am reminded of the account of King David in 2 Samuel Chapter 12. He sinned not only in committing adultery with another man’s wife, but also when she was with his child, David engineered events such that her husband was killed in battle. When God struck the child with a grave illness, David repented, fasted and pleaded for days with God for mercy. But it was not to be. Upon learning of his son’s death, however, he picked himself up and moved on in life.

What enabled David to do so? Was it because he knew he had to submit to God’s sovereign will and he accepted it without question? The cynic may say that David was just trying his luck with his fervent pleas to see if the Lord would grant him more mercy. I think King David did care deeply for his son and though he desperately wanted the boy to live, he knew that God had supreme authority to grant mercy to whom he chose.

I only pray that if ever I am tested and there seems to be no way out, I may not lose heart.

Benny Bong has over 40 years of experience as a therapist, counsellor and trainer. He also conducts regular talks and webinars. Benny has helmed the You & Your Family column for more than 16 years and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.