When we think of Thérèse, we think of her “Little Way,” the practice of offering up even the most commonplace tasks to God’s glory.
But the Little Way came no more easily to its originator than it does to us. She was just two when, instead of selecting a single item from a doll dressmaking kit as her sister did, Therese grabbed the basket and the remaining contents, saying, “I choose all!”
Evidence of self-control came just before her fourteenth birthday. As the youngest, Thérèse loved the tradition of finding Christmas presents in her shoes and so it continued in the Martin family, even though she was past the age when most children put the activity aside. She overheard her father saying he was glad that, at last, this would be the final year. While she was injured by the remark, she restrained herself from throwing a tantrum and crying uncontrollably. Instead, she pulled herself together and went downstairs and opened the presents, giving her family the gift of a joyful holiday instead of one spent consoling her.
That is not to say Thérèse demurred from standing up for herself when she needed to do so to accomplish God’s will. When she was just fourteen, she felt local church authorities were taking too long to make a decision about her request to join the Carmelite Order. So, when a pilgrimage from her diocese met with Pope Leo XIII in Rome, Thérèse departed from the prescribed “kneel and kiss of the ring and feet” ritual to ask him for permission to join the Order. While the pope didn’t grant her request immediately, she found out soon thereafter that she would be allowed to enter the convent the following Easter.
Thérèse was wise beyond her years in knowing when it was appropriate to adapt her behavior to serve God’s will, whether it was being brave enough to approach the pope or humble enough to do despised chores without complaint. Often, we simply brush off spiritual growth opportunities by saying, “That’s just not who I am.” The better approach is, “Who does God want me to be in this situation?”
“Jesus, help me to simplify my life by learning what you want me to be and becoming that person.”
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux
Ask God who he wants you to be today. Then be it.
Thérèse has much to teach our age of the image, the appearance, the “self.” We have become a dangerously self-conscious people, painfully aware of the need to be fulfilled, yet knowing we are not. Thérèse, like so many saints, sought to serve others, to do something outside herself, to forget herself in quiet acts of love. She is one of the great examples of the gospel paradox that we gain our life by losing it, and that the seed that falls to the ground must die in order to live.
Preoccupation with self separates modern men and women from God, from their fellow human beings, and ultimately from themselves. We must re-learn to forget ourselves, to contemplate a God who draws us out of ourselves, and to serve others as the ultimate expression of selfhood. These are the insights of Saint Thérèse, and they are more valid today than ever.