Saint Thérèse of Lisieux has much to teach us. You see her high regard as a saint today has nothing to do with the impact she made on the global stage, but in the way she lived her everyday life, and the words she wrote to chronicle it. While Saint Thérèse was living her unassuming life as a young nun, she was writing what would become her autobiography, collected today in a book called Story of a Soul. In this collection, we learn about young woman, who wants nothing out of her life but to please the Savior she is in passionate love with. Yet, she sees herself as boring and uninspiring. She is little in spirit. She is broken. She is keenly aware of the mistakes in her past and the mistakes she is prone to make in her future. She knows how easy it is to let her contemporaries get under her skin, and how tempting it is to respond to them in a less than loving way. She sometimes falls asleep during prayer. Her daily routine resembles the movie Ground Hogs Day, as each day looked exactly like the one before. How could someone like this, whose life is quiet and on repeat, ever please an all-powerful God who expects so much out of us?… Saint Thérèse found a way… a little way. It is a very simple but so very profound mindset. It’s easily attainable, yet so foreign to most. It’s what has become known as The Little Way, and the reason she is a saint today.
The Little Way, a phrase that she used but most likely was not trying to coin, is what she calls an elevator to Jesus. She needed an elevator because the staircase of perfection was too daunting for her, and for good reason. For those who tie God’s favor in with their morality and good deeds, the staircase to His love will always be to steep. For those who feel themselves farther away from God because of their mistakes, will also find the staircase too steep. So SaintThérèse searched her heart and searched the Scriptures, and developed and chronicled a life style of small, quite way to serve God in the midst of a repetitive, seemingly boring life. While the next few paragraphs will briefly cover The Little Way, and how one can adopt it into their own lives, because Saint Thérèse was not writing a book or a lecture for others to learn from, it sometimes proves difficult to come up with a solid definition… and perhaps that’s a good thing. When we box things up, and put boundaries around them, things tend to loose their mystery and adventure. There is no official definition. There are no bullet points. There are certainly no application points that all start with the same letter. One has to read her thoughts to find the jewels. One has read her words, digest them and connect their heart to hers to discover the joy she found in The Little Way.
Saint Thérèse observed,
I have always noticed that when I compared myself to the saints, there is between them and me the same difference that exists between a mountain who summit is lost in the clouds and the obscure grain of sand trampled underfoot by passers-by. Instead of becoming discouraged, I said to myself: God cannot inspire unrealizable desires. I can, then, in spite of my littleness, aspire holiness. It is impossible for me to grow up, and so I must bear with myself such as I am worth all my imperfections. But I want to seek out a means of going to heaven by a little way, a way that is very straight, very short, and totally new.
I appreciate anyone who is well aware of their failures, yet still desires Jesus. I admire anyone who knows they are incredibly flawed but still longs for the One who is not. I aspire to be like anyone who knows they are not perfect, but does not let their imperfections keep them from seeking a Savior who is.
The Little Way will lead one to take the most annoyingly repulsive traits of others, and offer them up as praise and celebration to God. It will take one from avoiding the Undesirable and the Marginalized in our Society, to seeking them without hesitation. In Story of a Soul, Saint Thérèse recounted many opportunities she had to do such a thing. One time, during her normal laundry duties, this future Saint was bothered by the amount of splash she was receiving on her face every time the Sister next to her raised her rag to scrub her laundry. At first, Saint Thérèse was moved to display an exaggerated wipe of her face, to show her friend how annoying it was that she being abused in such a dirty and vile way. Yet, instead of doing so, SaintThérèse reasoned it would be foolish to do so. She wanted not to be annoyed by her Sister’s negligence, but to envelop it in the name of love. She made up her mind that this disregard for her cleanliness was actually a treasure to embrace and be proud of. She wrote,
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.
Someone, in someway, Saint Thérèse had taken the urge to show her displeasure in being splashed in the face with dirty laundry water, and switched it to not only acceptance, but to a pleasantry. She turned a very uncomfortable situation into one she looked forward too. There’s not too many people who could stomach a situation like this without some sort of helpful mindset.This is a simple preview of The Little Way.
There was another situation, that Saint Thérèse described in Story of a Soul, using a slight tongue-in-cheek, comedic fashion, of a Sister who sat behind her during evening meditation who had a very annoying tendency. The best I can gather fromSaint Thérèse’s complaints, was that she could hear her fellow Sister breathing annoyingly, possibly through her nose, or perhaps she was grinding her teeth. Regardless, young Thérèse won me over when she transcribed her complaints about this fellow nun, and how distracting the noise became. Saint Thérèse desperately wanted to do a slight turn of the head to inform the woman behind her how annoying her “click” was, like I have done countless times at a movie theater or during youth group functions. Nevertheless, she did not. She, as she recounted, “remained calm, therefore, and tried to united myself to God and to forget the little noise.” Yet that proved useless. Eventually, instead of letting this pestering noise drive her up a wall, Saint Thérèse decided to embrace the it, praying to God that she would love the noise more and more. She decided to listen intently to the annoyance from the woman behind her, and during her prayers, Saint Thérèse offered this exasperation up to Christ as a concert. She flipped a common everyday source of frustration, that would cause most people to change seats, and turned it into an offering of worship to Jesus.
What if we were all capable of taking our everyday frustrations and interruptions, our annoyances and displeasures, and turning them into a concert for our Savior? What if we were able to take all of life’s worst moments, and use them as reasons to praise our God. I imagine this would take a lot of pressure out of our day to day lives. And this was exactly what The Little Waywas all about; finding God in the day to day, repetitive grind that is our existence.
More to come on The Little Way…