Therese, and the St. Bernard of my mind

 Some evenings, parenthood is  very, very hard indeed.

Interestingly enough, these are usually not the evenings of Big Crisis, like the sudden ear infection that requires a visit to the after-hours clinic.  No, I’m talking about the evenings when nothing really huge happens, good or bad. These are the ordinary evenings where there is a constant stream of little requests and demands that require my attention.  They are the evenings when I can’t even use the bathroom without a small boy needing me urgently, or when my phone conversations are interrupted by my need to referee the impromptu wrestling match that has suddenly broken out on the living room rug.

Is it crazy to say that these evenings are often far more draining than the moments of high drama?  (As it says on a card I once bought at a gift store, “Any idiot can face a crisis; it’s this day-to-day living that wears you out.”)  It’s as if all these little demands and interruptions leach my energy and sanity, like slow drips from a tap.   No wonder I sometimes feel so depleted by the time the boys’ bedtime rolls around.

A huge part of parenthood, I’m finding, is making peace with the reality that this *is* what it means to have family.  I am good at that on some days; less so on others.

Maybe that’s why last night, as I had to put down the lesson plans I was writing for school in order to get Luke into his pajamas, I thought of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.


Yesterday was her feast day, a fact which was hard to miss if you have Catholic Facebook friends like I do.    And I thought of her life story, and her legacy.  She was a nun in a Carmelite convent in France; she died of tuberculosis in 1897, at age twenty-four, and we know about her largely because of her spirited and fascinating autobiography The Story of a Soul.   But perhaps she’s most famous for what has become known as the Little Way — a way of attaining holiness by enduring the annoyances of life (particularly those from other people) with a spirit of charity and love rather than bitterness.

As she writes in The Story of a Soul, “The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least of actions for love.  I wish both to suffer and to find joy through love.”

To suffer and find joy through love.  Isn’t that motherthood, in a nutshell?

I wrote in Random MOMents of Grace that parenthood is about “dying to self,” a phrase I never used to understand (or, for that  matter, particularly like.)  Dying to self also  seems to be the guiding principle behind  Thérèse’s Little Way.   If someone is fidgeting and annoying you while you are trying to meditate, don’t turn and stare at them until they stop; rather, accept the noise and offer the experience to God.  (This is an example taken directly from Thérèse’s own book, and life.)  Instead of getting caught in the self-pitying, huffy spin cycle of “This moment is not going as  I wanted it to go,”  the Little Way encourages us to think about that moment differently.   It is what it is.  Can we find a way to adjust our own thinking in order to embrace it, not fight against it?

Thérèse’s life says that we can,  if we are willing to try.

On the face of it, her world and mine could  not be more different.  She lived in a convent full of French women, not a suburban tract home inhabited by very small and loud man-children.  All the same, I can’t help but feel that she would really get my struggles.  And it is helpful, on this ordinary night of ordinary challenges. to think of all the little ways that I can practice the Little Way in my own existence.

There’s the five-year-old who spills his water at the dinner table .  There’s the  seven-year-old who keeps telling me jokes out of his joke book just when I am dying to finish reading that blog post.  There’s the bedroom door being flung open when I’m stealing a few quiet moments at my prayer desk.  There’s the  child who is tired from the day and crying because his Lego plane just broke, and he doesn’t know how to fix it, and I do.

It’s hard not to wince when these interruptions come, when family life demands more than I feel able or willing to give.  And pulling my mind out of its instinctive resistance to a place of acceptance takes an astonishing amount of effort,  somewhat like dragging a sitting St. Bernard down the street.

But there are some challenges that are worth taking, and I think — no, I know — that this is one of them.

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