A Parable of Grace

Ron Rolheiser OMI
July 1, 2001

Piet Fransen wrote many important books, but he will always be most remembered for giving us a wonderful parable that runs something like this:

Once upon a time there lived a young girl who had been cheated in love. Born to parents who didn't want her, she grew up tolerated more than accepted, put–down more than encouraged, cursed more than blessed. Not once in her young life had she ever experienced being wanted and admired simply for who she was. Every bit of love and generosity she experienced had a string attached.

Soon enough it began to show. She became rough, hard, calculating, manipulative, mean, given over to crude language, a bitter young person who bit in order not to be bitten. She ceased caring about her appearance. She also ceased caring about the consequences her actions. She gave herself over to loveless affairs, using sex as recreation and as a way of punishing others for the world's lovelessness and for the fact that normal joys would never be hers.

In the same city there lived a young man for whom fate had drawn a different straw. Much wanted and loved, he grew up in a happy home, nurtured by his mother, blessed by his father, surrounded by siblings and friends who, appreciative of his person, teased and humoured him. Soon enough this too began to show. He grew into a young man who was grateful, generous, careful of his appearance and speech, witty, and anxious to give back to others the love that had so generously been given him.

One day, by chance, he met the young woman. He saw through her shabby exterior — her coarse language, her bad manners, her deliberately ill–fitted clothing. He saw her soul, its dormant beauty. He fell in love with her.

But she thought him a joke. She laughed at him, saw his approach as condescending, threw his gentleness back in his face as an insult. But he was still smitten. He grieved her bitterness, ignored the insults as best he could, and continued to invite her into his life with an understanding and a humour that caught her off guard. She laughed, but this time, not at him. She laughed like Sarah laughed, at age 90, when God told her that she was still to have a baby: “Am I to have normal joy in my life? Am I to have the love and tenderness that I have so often disdained?”

She flashed him a shy smile. But it was ever–so–brief. Normal joy was not for her; she knew it. But, bolstered by that smile, he continued to reach out to her, offering her a surprising understanding, inviting her into his life. Unexpected bursts of tenderness began to swell in her and she began shyly to clean up her appearance, to tone–down her coarseness. This made him more bold and he pronounced his love for her. She responded in tears, her heart full of new resolutions to never do anything to not be worthy of this love.

But old habits die hard, especially in times of disappointment. One day, angered by a perceived slight, she set off to be with her former friends, to take up again her habits of lovelessness. He called her, but she didn't answer. She wanted to make him feel some pain. In bitterness, she threw her infidelity into his face, saw his hurt, and was happy for it. A bitter satisfaction seeped through her soul as he walked away, silent, defeated. But her victory soon turned to defeat and she found herself weeping, regretting that it was too late. But it wasn't.

He called the next day. She was beside herself with relief. She fell in his arms, wept. No words were necessary. He cried too and asked her to marry him. She said yes and felt a joy that, for all her life, she had bitterly assumed was only for others. She knew too that she would never betray him again. She was ready for love.

Their life together was not without its pain; but, as the years went by, their love grew and was deepened by the birth of their children. Her graciousness grew with each passing year as did a joy that began to etch itself into the very lines of her face. As her hair grew grey, her eyes softened. Each day she felt more grateful. Her husband often expressed his pride in her and her children, alternatively, argued with her and humoured her.

One day, looking through some old photographs, she found a picture of herself as she had once been, before love entered her life. She studied for a long time a snapshot of a bitter, young girl, finding it hard to believe that this once was her. She prayed in gratitude that love had found and saved her and asked God to help all those who find themselves excluded from the circle of love and happiness.

We are that young woman. God is that young man.