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Apr 27, 2021 314 Sarah Juszczak,
Encounter

Que Sera Sera

Is anger or resentment the only way to deal with unfaithfulness in your life? Sarah Juszczak unravels the path less trodden, through her story of pain and triumph.

The Meet-Cute

I come from a lovely, Italian family. I was raised and grew up Catholic, but in my teens, although I was going to Mass on Sundays, I wasn’t really living the faith.

When I was sixteen, I joined a youth group and that’s where I met Tomasz. Tom and I were asked to lead a youth weekend together, so we ended up spending a lot of time together trying to organise it. Soon after, we started “seeing each other”. Neither of us were keen to give our relationship a label- there was no intentionality about it.

I was pretty rebellious in my younger years, which Tom hated.  Being Polish, his Catholic faith was important to him, and he had a lot of traditional values. Neither of us really knew our faith or lived it—and because he didn’t really understand the reasons behind his values, it wasn’t hard for me to convince him otherwise. It wasn’t clear where this relationship was headed and it wasn’t the healthiest, but we cared about each other.

Fog in the Glass

After nearly three years together, Tom and I were starting to think about marriage. Tom was finishing up at university and had always dreamed of spending a few months travelling Europe before getting a full-time job. I was very unsure about this, but something in my heart told me that it was important. This time apart would either make or break us.

Just before Tom left for Europe, we joined our youth group at World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney. At that point in my life, I was realizing that my faith life needed to change. I couldn’t continue floating along in what was really a ‘practical atheism’. I went to World Youth Day with this question on my heart: “God, if You exist, show yourself to me. I want to know You”.

A couple of talks and experiences really spoke to me that week. As I sat on the train ride home one evening, mulling over the things I had been hearing, I opened the pilgrim’s handbook to a quote from Saint Augustine: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You”. At that moment, I had a sudden and overwhelming awareness of the presence of God. My centre of gravity shifted. I knew that God was real and nothing would be the same again.

Soon after, Tomasz left for Europe and I suddenly had a lot of time to spare. I listened to talks on the Theology of the Body, read more about the lives of the Saints and attended weekly Holy Hours. The six months that Tom was away were a time of conversion for me, culminating in a one-month, live-in youth leaders formation course. During that time, I realized that if I wanted to continue on this journey with God, I needed to let go of the things that were leading me away from Him, so that I could follow him wholeheartedly.

The Worst Part?

With Tomasz away in Europe, I wondered if things would work out for us when he returned home. He was still caught up in a world that I had decided to leave behind, and our values and priorities were now miles apart.  I kept taking this to prayer, and praying for Tom. I tried to plant some seeds, and when some of his travel plans were derailed I managed to convince him to make a detour to Lourdes, which was a powerful experience for him—but he wasn’t ready to make changes yet.

When he returned from Europe, I knew we had to have an honest conversation. We went out to dinner and I tried to tell him about some of the things that had been happening in my life. I told him things needed to change about our relationship. For the most part he seemed okay with it, until I told him I wanted him to stop using pornography. He barely hesitated before responding with a flat out “No”. This was quite a shock for me. I thought he’d at least be open it to it. He’d later tell me that he was struggling with a porn addiction, although he wasn’t really aware of that at the time.

As the Fog Fades

As we continued to recount our experiences during our time apart, it became clearer to him that I was different, and he became somewhat uneasy. When I revealed that I really wanted to pray the Rosary with my family every day when I was married, he reacted very strongly against that. I would try to challenge him and encourage him. As I described my image of family life and how I hoped to live my life, he would push back. He was no longer the most important thing in my life and he didn’t like it one bit.

I started to feel that I wasn’t supposed to be in this relationship, so, I asked the Lord for an answer. I knew He wanted me to break up with Tom, but it was difficult because we were in so deep. I tried to break it off several times, but for Tom it was all or nothing. I loved him and didn’t want him out of my life completely. I told the Lord that I didn’t have enough strength to end the relationship myself. The only way it could happen is if Tom messed up big time, but I was certain that it wasn’t possible.

Completely Oblivious

Not long after, Tom came to see me. He was clearly very nervous, but he finally worked up the courage to come clean. He’d been cheating on me. I was shattered. How could he have betrayed me, when I trusted him so completely? How could he have lied so convincingly, without even batting an eyelid? How could I have been so oblivious?

This revelation made me question a lot of things I thought I knew. I never thought Tom was capable of being deceptive and I had thought I was a pretty good judge of character. I discovered he was in the habit of lying and had been for some time. He was frighteningly good at it.

Naturally, I threw Tom out straight away. I’ve always had a flair for drama, so I packed up a box of his things that night and called him back to collect them. When I met him outside my house, I completely lost it. I was enraged. To my surprise, he didn’t try to explain or defend himself, he just fell to the ground and wept.

Embraced by God

It’s hard to articulate what happened in that moment. As I saw Tom crying, all anger in me instantly dissolved. I was so moved with pity and love that I knelt down next to him and embraced him. I can only describe that moment as a glimpse of the Heart of the Father. I felt God’s love and mercy flowing through me, and saw that I was no different to Tomasz. In that moment, God gave me a glimpse of His own Heart as He embraced me and forgave me my own infidelity.

Tomasz later described this experience similarly, as if it was God enfolding him within His merciful, loving embrace. I’m not one to let go of things quickly, so the grace to forgive Tomasz so magnanimously definitely came from God, not me.

Connecting the Dots

Although I forgave Tom, we both knew we needed to go our separate ways. Tom would later say that being dumped was one of the best things that ever happened to him. God had been leading Tom on his own journey, and he needed to do this part without me. On that detour to Lourdes, months earlier, he experienced God guiding him. In fact, God guided him straight to the confessional. When he started to put things into the light, he received the grace to eventually be honest with me.

Following our breakup, Tomasz made a conscious effort to turn his life around. He started making regular Holy Hours, going to a priest friend of ours for guidance, and finally got around to listening to the CDs on Theology of the Body that I had been nagging him about since his return from Europe.

Little Did I Know

Tom and I were together three years before we broke up, and were apart for three years before God brought us back together. During that time, we were able to rebuild our friendship. I was completing my studies, enjoying a new career in marketing and communications and discerning my vocation. I was pretty sure I was going to be a religious Sister. Tom was earning a good living as a rehabilitation consultant, but growing increasingly restless. Both of us earnestly wanted to discover God’s will for our lives.

The opportunity to attend WYD 2011 in Madrid came up for each of us on separate pilgrimages. Both of us went with the intention of discovering what God wanted next. I was hoping to meet the religious order I was supposed to join, and Tom was preparing to leave his job, but didn’t know where to go next. By the end of the pilgrimage, Tom had decided to enrol in a Theology course. I was not successful in finding a religious order. Instead, while visiting Poland with my pilgrimage group, I found myself thinking about Tom and how it didn’t seem right to be visiting his homeland without him.

Shortly after returning home, I realized that I really needed to pray about God’s will regarding my relationship with Tom, so I started a novena. The same day, Tom invited me to join him in a fifty-four day Rosary Novena for a particular intention–27 days to pray for the intention and 27 days to give thanks. I agreed, but added on my secret, second intention for our relationship.

Twenty-seven days into that novena, Tom and I were both at a leadership retreat. Tom was helping to run the retreat while I served in the kitchen.  I dropped in to listen to him give a talk and was struck by how much he had grown. He was really becoming a man of God. I thought to myself, “Here is a man I could entrust myself to.” It turned out that he shared the same intention in the Novena. When we resumed dating, I felt total peace because both of us were seeking God’s will – so there was nothing to fear.

To cut a long story short, Tom and I were engaged on the Solemnity of the Assumption of Our Lady. Tom told me that he chose that day, not just because he loved Our Lady, but because it pointed to the ultimate end of the marriage he was proposing: Heaven. We were married on Easter Saturday, or the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday and prayed that our marriage could give witness to the transforming power of God’s Mercy. God had taken the mess that we had made of our relationship the first time around and made it into something completely new.

Marriage is a commitment, a vocation, a union. When we made that commitment at the altar to love one another, it was till death do us part. This is where we really learn about love. God doesn’t often ask us to die for our spouse, like Jesus did for us: His Church, but He is asking us to die to ourselves by forgiving each other in little ways every day. Marriage has to be based on loving forgiveness. God forgave us before we even said sorry. He told us to “Love one another as I have loved you.” When we imitate Him and forgive without rancour, then we share real love in a relationship centred on Christ. That relationship will last into eternity.

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Sarah Juszczak

©Sarah Juszczak ARTICLE is based on an interview with Sarah and Tomasz Juszczak in the Shalom World TV program, “Seventy times seven”. To watch the episode visit: https://www.shalomworld.org/episode/how-do-you-deal-with-unfaithfulness-in-your-life-sarah-juszczak

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