In a hurting world, which desperately needs to encounter God’s love and mercy, it can be overwhelming to think of what we can possibly do to make a difference. It may be tempting to become detached to the suffering around us; certainly, it is easier on the heart. Yet, if we are truly seeking to live the joy of the Gospel, we must respond with meaningful, life-affirming action. That action, however, does not need to take the form of a missionary, activist, or full-time volunteer; it can begin amidst the mundane, hidden behind the cloak of ordinary, everyday acts.
Story of a Soul
A few years ago, I was reading St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s autobiography, Story of a Soul, and was struck by her sentiment that “everything is a grace.” Everything? I was irritated by this idea. At the time I was in grad school, living over a thousand miles away from my family and friends, with a roommate whose personality and mine terribly clashed. Far from looking at every opportunity as a moment for grace, I found myself resenting this person, justifying my bitterness. It felt too overwhelming, impossible even, to be charitable to this person on a daily basis. So I opted for indifference but in that indifference, I began to allow my heart to harden and grow— not just towards this person but towards the world.
As I continued to read Story of a Soul, I was struck by the simplicity of St. Thérèse’s “Little Way.” She had confidence that her path to salvation would be accomplished by loving Jesus through small, seemingly unnoticeable acts of charity, “quite hidden little acts of virtue.”’
Little, Hidden Acts
The concept was liberating. I didn’t need to make grandiose gestures of kindness. St. Thérèse points out that one of the greatest obstacles in our path to God is the failure to do ordinary things with extraordinary love. She goes on to write that
true Charity consists in bearing with all the defects of our neighbor, in not being surprised at his failings, and in being edified by his least virtues; Charity must not remain shut up in the depths of the heart.
Upon reading this, I was convicted.
I began to see the arrangement with my roommate as an opportunity to grow in the virtue of charity and humility. Instead of focusing on my roommate’s failings, I tried to be edified by her acts of virtue. Moreover, I began looking for opportunities to show kindness in little ways (patiently listening to her talk endlessly about one of her greatest passions . . . which happened to be one of my least favorite topics).
Out of Love
I’ll never know if those decisions made a difference or if they even registered to her as me loving her as best as I could but that doesn’t matter. When I made the decision to do them out of love for Jesus, I let go of my need for her to see how hard I was trying. As the memories of our time together fade, I carry with me the importance of loving people in little ways, especially people who perhaps seem as though they don’t “deserve” love, those who get under our skin or are selfish and egocentric, those whose values and world views clash with our own.
The decision to do something out of love for Jesus, instead of an obligation, has the power to transform how we see chores, annoyances, the smallest of tasks. Every day we are presented with hundreds of moments to comfort His Most Sacred Heart. Our world is not in need of the most brilliant deeds, it is in need of millions of people who love well, for
you know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.
Here are three ways to embrace St. Thérèse’s “Little Way”. If practiced, I’m sure you will find in time (just as I eventually did) that everything truly is an opportunity to experience grace.
My whole strength lies in prayer and sacrifice, these are my invincible arms; they can move hearts far better than words, I know it by experience.
A life of prayer is the foundation of the Little Way. In order to love, we must first be in a deep relationship with the One who first loves us.
Holiness consists simply in doing God’s will, and being just what God wants us to be.
In other words, be who God created you to be — nothing more, nothing less. Avoid getting caught up with the distractions of the world, speaking about things of which you know little or nothing about, and meddling in matters that don’t involve you. Seek to find God, and seek to reveal God, in the ordinary moments of life.
We do not need to agree with someone or be their best friend in order to show love to a person. We mustn’t allow love to be reserved for a select few, nor must we be surprised by other people’s shortcomings. Often, this requires dying to self, letting go of pride, and surrendering to the Christ who died for us despite our unworthiness.
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