The Little Way, said St. Therese of Lisieux, is “the way of spiritual childhood, the way of trust and absolute surrender.”
For a child who wanted nothing more than to be a grown-up, it’s strange that, at the age of 13, I chose the doctor of spiritual childhood as my patron saint, my Confirmation name and my role model. For a child with such lofty aspirations as curing disease or writing the Great American Novel, it is strange that I chose a saint who died at age 24, virtually unknown, a cloistered nun in a Carmelite convent in France. But when I read her “Story of a Soul,” I was swept away by the total love and dedication she had to Jesus.
Since then, I have not followed perfectly her Little Way – not even close. In fact, it is only recently that I have revisited her words to re-inspire my own spirituality. As human beings, I think we can be so caught up in grand gestures that we forget the small daily acts we can take to love Christ and love His people. Our anxiety is so high that we forget, or don’t know how, to put our trust completely in God. Both of these things are certainly true of me. That’s why the two lessons I am taking from Therese’s Little Way today, on her feast day, are to love God and love others in small ways and to turn my worries over to Him.
Therese writes of such small sacrifices she made in the convent to make her sisters happy and, therefore, please God – going out of her way to be kind to the nuns who were most annoying to her. Certainly, out in the world, I have a plethora of opportunities to meet others with patience and mercy and kindness. I take full advantage of those opportunities when they are easy or pleasant to me, but what do I do when faced with an annoying person or a difficult task?
When, during laundry, a nun kept splashing dirty water into Therese’s face, Therese writes, her initial thought was to wipe her face to show her annoyance and remind her sister to be more careful. “But I immediately thought I would be very foolish to refuse these treasures which were being given to me so generously,” she writes, “and I took care not to show my struggle. I put forth all my efforts to desire receiving very much of this dirty water, and was so successful that in the end I had really taken a liking to this kind of aspersion, and I promised myself to return another time to this nice place where one received so many treasures.”
When someone kicks the back of my seat on an airplane, do I make a show of moving around to demonstrate my annoyance, or do I remain still and silent, because that person didn’t mean to kick my seat? When someone cuts me off on the highway, do I honk my horn to let them know they were in the wrong – even though they are safe, and I am safe, and honking will not make us any safer?
I’m human, so I think you can probably guess the answers to those questions – and guess how I’d like to change my behavior moving forward.
The Way of Love
“Oh! how sweet is the way of Love!” writes Therese. “How I want to apply myself to doing the will of God always with the greatest self-surrender!”
Surrendering to the will of God can be terrifying: What if the will of God isn’t what I want? Often, our wills are not the same. Can I trust that what I want may not be what is best? There is more than one time in my life when I prayed for something so much and was so disappointed – even hurt – when what I prayed for didn’t happen – and then, later, was so grateful that God didn’t answer my prayer. Now, when I pray, I try to ask God more for the grace to accept when His will is done, rather than for my will to be done. There are, of course, things I still want and pray for, but I usually add the caveat, “But if that’s really a bad idea, then please just let me know and accept that.”
Therese, who literally traveled to the Vatican to ask the pope for permission to fulfill her vocation and become a Carmelite, and faced disappointment before she finally joined the convent, can teach me a lot about patience and acceptance. (Her parents, for that matter, who discovered their vocation for marriage after being denied entry to religious life, and who lost four of their five children, could teach me the same.) Do I have the courage to take her lessons to heart?