Families, become what you are
Newlyweds Jeremy and Pearlyn speak to Theodore and Ramona Olsen (married for 35 years) and Gerard and Wendy Lim (married for 28 years) to find out the secrets to a happy and fulfilling family life.
“I was not a good Catholic father, not a good Catholic husband,” Theodore would repeat throughout the interview. “In the past, I would go out with colleagues, drink, club, have fun. But the joy didn’t last because I did not have God in my life at that time.”
Looking at him and Ramona exchanging loving glances and holding hands throughout the interview, it was hard to believe that Theodore used to be a “married single” — a term used to describe those who were married but still living the single lifestyle.
“Now, all those things [that I used to enjoy] don’t matter anymore. And it is because I have found the Lord again. I forgot how to love. When I found the Lord… I learnt to love again.”
The Search for More
In the first three years of their marriage, Gerard and Wendy Lim struggled to build a Christ-centred family life amidst the challenges of parenthood, household duties and work. “We had a permanent mountain of clothes that needed to be ironed in our house,” Wendy laughed as she remembered what it was like 28 years ago. “Life was ‘sleep, work, eat, shop, sleep’, a bit meaningless. We felt that something was missing.”
Gerard added, “We were asking ourselves how we could serve the church better but in reality we were also struggling to keep up with the demands of our young family”.
For the Olsens, Ramona was the first to feel the ache for more. Deep in her heart, she knew there was something wrong with the way they were living their family life but didn’t know what was wrong. When Ramona came across a Couples for Christ (CFC) flyer in church one day, something clicked in her and she decided to give it a try. Even then, it took two years of persistent prayer before Theodore realised that there could be more to being a Christian husband and father than just providing for the family.
Encountering a Community of Witnesses
“For two years, I attended all the CFC events by myself and would always bring my youngest child along. Theo used to drop me at the prayer meetings and then go off for coffee. I kept praying, ‘Lord touch my husband, that he will go on bended knees to proclaim you are Lord and King,’” recounted Ramona.
Through the CFC community, the Olsens began their journey towards their own spiritual awakenings and healing. It was evident through Theodore’s eyes how much life he received from having a supportive Christ-centred community, “I love the people [in CFC]. We are like a bigger family. I can be myself with them. Being able to share my struggles lifts my burdens and strengthens me.”
Gerard and Wendy also joined CFC, and being in a praying community gave them focus, priority and structure to grow their young family and helped them to be more rooted in their faith. “Families really need each other. Yes, the programmes are good but you also need to live out your family life in a community. It is an active lifestyle,” Wendy emphasised.
To the Lims, family spirituality involves everyone in the family. “When we joined, CFC was only six years old. We were a very small community and had to do everything. By providence, our kids were looking and watching us. Our son helped us set up chairs for the prayer meetings. Those were formative years. We were the first catechists and models [to our children]. What we could not teach in a formal manner, we showed by example.”
Where to Start
Blown away by the testimonies shared by both couples during the two-hour interview, we eagerly pressed them for practical tips to bring about this transformation in our own families.
Gerard and Wendy smiled and said simply, “Desire [comes] first. When you recognise the need for infusing spirituality in life, you’ll start doing things to bring about conversion. Do you see the value of marriage and that there could be a richer, more wholesome family life? If not, then there is no point.”
As for Theodore and Ramona, they believe there is no better way than to be “walking testimonies” to encourage other families to infuse spirituality into their family life. “I think it is the witnessing. They [other families] need to see it in people’s lives. When they see a Christ-centred couple, the concrete actions they do, the love and respect, they will understand who God is. Then that is the best advertisement.” Theodore and Ramona encourage couples to be connected with their parish community through a ministry or programme. “Come, taste and see, how good our God can be.”
“Families, become what you are” was the phrase that rang in our heads as we parted ways that night. There was so much love, life and joy radiating from both couples in the evening we spent with them. Truly, as St John Paul II proclaimed in article 17 of Familiaris Consortio, when families realise the vision that God has for them and act accordingly, the world will be transformed, one family at a time.