Today I am thinking about Saint Therese, the Little Flower. Therese is very special to me as my patron saint, the patron saint of one of my children, and of my grandmother whom I never got the privilege of meeting. Therese may be one of the most marked examples of accepting suffering and using it well. Indeed by the end of her life, she was happy in her suffering. It seems to me if we can reach that place, there is no need for our suffering and yet at the same time, it doesn’t bother us if it continues.
Therese’s pain was so great that she said if it wasn’t for her faith she would have taken her own life. Yet, many thought she was faking her sickness because she was so cheerful. I think Therese was making a choice that although the pain was unspeakable, she was not going to be controlled by it–she was not going to despair, not going to wallow in self-pity. She was going to use it.
Isn’t that amazing?
Can you imagine walking around In this kind of intense physical pain and no one even being able to tell? When I’m in pain, I want people to know! I want sympathy. I want the excuse, especially when I do let my pain (physical or emotional) get control of me. But Therese only wanted to deflect attention away from herself.
It was said that the physical ordeal which she felt more than any other was the cold of the convent buildings in winter, but no one even suspected this until she confessed it on her death-bed. It’s the not complaining in any way that impresses me. Some complaints are justified or even, you could say, you’re entitled to. But Therese didn’t say a word–and not only that, but she didn’t even act the part. If no one knew, that means no one ever saw her blowing on her hands or rubbing them together or crossing her arms across her chest or pulling a sweater tighter around her. She just endured it . . . with a smile.
I think you really have to understand God’s design for suffering to act like this. You would have to believe that it serves a purpose. You would also have to be much more concerned with something else–namely God and others. To me, its that being concerned about others part, that’s really hard to do. Sometimes suffering makes us even more internal, more focused on us. It looms so large in our mind that we can scarcely think of anything else. And sometimes we are just trying so hard to endure it that we can’t imagine having the ability to reach out to others. I’m not totally sure how you overcome that. I think there is a fine line between accepting that you may not be able to do everything you would like for everyone in the middle of your own crisis and not letting yourself become so focused on yourself that you don’t see the needs around you.
By the time of her death, Therese was able to say, “I have reached the point of not being able to suffer any more, because all suffering is sweet to me.”
So first, we learn to be joyous while we are suffering and then as we spiritually mature, we get to the point where we are genuinely happy for our sufferings. Kind of like that saying, “fake it until you make it.” So the point is to smile, to train ourselves to be joyful, to choose joy no matter what our circumstances. Joy is not the same as happiness. Joy is an internal contentment that has nothing to do with our circumstances.
I bet you know people who are constantly joyful. It doesn’t mean they are always happy but they just radiate a joy, a peace. And its a very attractive quality.
True joy, true peace comes from acceptance. Or actually I prefer the word surrender. Yes, surrender, as in, I give up, Lord. Have Your way–even if Your way for me is the way You took, the way of the Cross.
We are called to imitate Jesus. Jesus suffered so we should rejoice in our sufferings as they allow us to be more like Him!
Like Bishop Sheen said, “You can’t have Easter Sunday without Good Friday.”
Things that helped me:
So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. (Acts 5:41)
Out of these ashes… beauty will rise.
And we will dance among the ruins
We will see Him with our own eyes.
Out of these ashes… beauty will rise
For we know, joy is coming in the morning…
in the morning, beauty will rise. (Steven Curtis Chapman Beauty Will Rise) From the album: Beauty Will Rise.
What else from the life of Saint Therese says joy to you? What story of joy lifts you through your suffering?