Thérèse and “giving up” to God


Today is the Feast day for St Thérèse of Lisieux, one of my favorite saints. When I converted to Roman Catholicism, I was told that I would need a saint’s name for my confirmation and I instantly “knew” it would be Thérèse, although I did not really know why at the time. It was like the sort of decision that Ignatius of Loyola calls the first way to make a decision—because one just immediately knows what it is that God desires.

Since then, though, there have been many ways that Thérèse has taught me or touched my life, and those of others with whom I have been connected. Often Thérèse is presented for her “little way” or idea that we can live out a life of holiness through showing love in the smallest of actions, for example, how she tried to practice simplicity and love with her sisters in religious community. There is plenty of wisdom in the idea that love is ordinary and every day, and that its value is not necessarily only in dramatic and showy acts. The limit to this understanding of Thérèse, however, is that in her autobiography and letters, she is all passion. Beneath the little way is an enormous longing and desire for God.

Thérèse notes how she was full of such longing for God that she wished she could somehow live out all vocations: the vocation of a priest, a solider, a martyr, or a doctor of the church (she got the last one). At the same time, she lived a life of a cloistered Carmelite, and all of the limits of only being able to live out a single human life. Eventually she arrives at the notion that her vocation is to LOVE as this love is behind every vocation, and is the deeper call. She adds,

“I am a child… It is not riches or glory (not even the glory of Heaven) that this child asks for… No, she asks for Love. She knows but one desire: to love you, Jesus. Glorious deeds are forbidden her; she cannot preach the Gospel or shed her blood… But what does that matter, her brothers work in her place, and she, a little child, stays close to the throne of the King and Queen, and loves for her brothers who are in the combat… But how shall she show her love, since love proves itself by deeds? Well! the little child will strew flowers, she will embalm the royal throne with their fragrance, she will sing with a silver voice the canticle of Love.

Yes, my Beloved, I wish to spend my life thus… I have no other means of proving my love except by strewing flowers, that is to say, letting no little sacrifice pass, no look, no word–profiting by the littlest actions, and doing them out of love.”

I see here in these words Thérèse’s deep “giving up” of herself to God and to God’s Love. Thérèse was “all in” with God and trusted that God’s Love would make her life meaningful–she knew what we all have must come to know: which is that our lives are a paradox of being  both completely ordinary and infinitely valued. How do we live in that space of being both “nothing” and “everything to God”? By choosing to live day by day for God and in Love. When we abandon ourselves completely to God, God will take care of all the rest.