We spend so much time trying to be who we aren’t. We’re taught young that there’s a certain way of being in the world that will get us “ahead” in life. That aggression and pushing and climbing is the way for us to get to the top of the ladder. To be successful. To be noticed. To be important. We spend so much time being who we aren’t, trying to be that person, that sometimes we’ve forgotten who we are.
We’re trying to be who we’re “supposed to be” and some of us have gotten so good at being who we’re “supposed to be” that we’re not even sure who we are anymore.
What if we all could Be simply who we are?
I think the best way to learn is to explore is in the lives of those who came before us. Those we admire who have struggled on the paths and found a way through. Sometimes those who walk beside us and sometimes those who have walked before us. Those who left footprints to follow. Sometimes deep and heavy and straight and easy to follow. Sometimes, we need those deep prints so that we don’t go astray and maybe even if not for all things, for some things we need those deep imprints so we don’t get lost.
But sometimes, we need the softer footprints. Ordinary footprints. The slow and meandering path. The path that seems small and insignificant in a world that thrives on big and loud and impressive.
We’re going to look at Saint Therese of Lisieux today. This young woman had high aims. She wanted to be a Saint or perhaps, she knew she was destined for Sainthood. She sought to climb that ladder to be of importance. To leave behind something of real value. To pave the way…
Therese was ordinary. With familiar ordinary problems to work through. Just like us. Maybe this is the gift of saints. They are just like us if we dig a little bit deeper into the story. They give us footprints we can follow…real, tangible footprints. Footprints in lots of different ways and directions to the same place.
Therese discovered the challenges of high aims and goals for a single, small human being. The outer obstacles and the inner obstacles.
Therese was all of those things that aren’t impressive. That we aren’t supposed to be or admire we are. She was weak. She cried. She was sensitive. She grieved deeply. She was lonely. She was ill. She was young. She despaired.
She was like us. Human. But that is what makes her footprints special for us. She didn’t pave a way, but she made gentle, little footprints that any of us can follow.
She was denied entry to the convent because she was “too young”. She pleaded and was still denied. She traveled with her father and continued her plea to enter to convent where her sisters were. She knew she didn’t belong in the world outside of the convent. She was told to be patient. But it was in those travels that she realized that people are people and powerful men are not always great or impressive and are sometimes they are just as lost and unsure as the rest of us. Big and loud is not always great. It is probably good that she spent some time out in the world before being cloistered. She brought much of that knowledge with her. A better understanding of…people and a learning of what is of value, of real value. Knowledge that transformed into wisdom and transformed her. And perhaps can transform us.
She sought perfection and learned that perfection is an impossible path. The paths are crooked, the steps narrow, the roads hard, the stairs long and steep. There are failures and demons along the way. She knew herself to be small and weak. A mere human. That path was impossible…
But she discovered that small work is just as big in God’s eye. To surrender and trust to what you can give and be.
She learned that in simplicity there is a simpler path to God. Easier roads. Sweeter paths. Instead of steep stairs…an elevator. She realized that it is humans who make it complex. God is simple. Love is simple. One simply has to Love. Love God and spread the simple seeds of love where you are. Let each flower blooming in the garden brings a simple beauty and love to this world. To one another. Not just to the big out there world, but those near us who need us. Those right in front of us.
There are holy acts in every day and even the littlest of us can perform these holy acts. And one can reach out for those holy acts. Every one of us. In all our interactions. Instead of easy company, sitting at the table with the lonely and the upset and the grumpy. Don’t sit only with only one’s own sisters, preaching to one’s own choir, but sit with the sisters who challenge us and challenge our peace and grace. Those that “push our buttons”. That is the holy simple work.
To be loving and cheerful. To smile. To listen. To give. To serve. To help. Even, and especially, when we don’t feel like it. To look inward and practice harder when we desire to point fingers and dislike. People are people. Love is love. And all people are deserving of love. All people.
It is said that after Therese’s death one of the sisters was so upset and talked about how Therese loved her so. Therese was the only one who loved her, always sought out her company, and always sat with her. In fact, Therese chose to be with that sister to challenge herself with the person no one wanted to be around. The person who was hardest to bear. To create the friction that builds beautiful deeply abiding warmth of heart. For everyone. Not just for the easy company.
Her simple calling became Love. To love when it was easy…to love more when it was hard. In simple, little ways we are all capable of:
“A word or a smile is often enough to put fresh life into a despondent soul.”
We can all smile. We can all say a kind word.
This is work we can do. We can ALL do this work. To seek out those who need love and to share our hearts. To smile. To be pleasant. In all things. It’s small, muddy work. It may seem “too small”, but perhaps we only call it “too small” because we don’t want to do it?
It’s not a competition to get to Bigger Love. Great Love. Perfection. Love is love and where there is love, there is grace.
We don’t bring our hands full to God. We don’t bring lists to prove our worth to God. We don’t bring resumes. There’s no examination or cross examination with God. No evidence to be presented to God. Just empty hands full of love or ready to be filled with love.
Letting go so that God can fill us. Not with the tangibles, but the intangibles.
Therese is the Saint of Little Work. Of living out simple and practical Grace. Kindness. She is the saint of flowers and florists. The saint of missionaries. The saint of aviators.
She died quite young. Suffering a long and painful death. And yet even through her suffering, the simple graces. Smiling. Pleasing. Cheerfulness.
In her uncertainty that she was dying and might not be worthy of God, she feared that she sat at the table of sinners, and still she kept cheerful, smiling, and pleasing. This is poignant, reminding us to be gentle to everyone. Those who are sweet, those who are bitter, and those who seem to have it together. Those who seem to not need us. Because even those who seem perfectly fine…are often not and just as easily succumb to being unsure of themselves as the rest of us. We never truly know what another person is going through.
This little way of love and surrender. She continued serving those who needed her words until she could hardly speak. She continued her work: Story of a Soul, until she could no longer hold a pencil.
And in her final words, Love:
“My God, I love you.”
Simple. True. Practical. The planting of seeds that each soul is a gift. Each of us has work to do and practice to practice. And that to practice loving God is to practice loving one another. To practice grace is to continue to be cheerful, pleasant, smiling, and gentle.