St. Therese and These Four Walls

While pondering our confinement and all its implications and challenges . . . and graces, it struck me that there are individuals, including one of my favorite saints, St. Therese of Lisieux, who have been called to live their entire adult lives within the walls of a single cloister!  This led me to wonder, what can we learn from St. Therese about living these months within the four walls of our own homes – whether living alone or with a spouse/family?  How did she manage to thrive within her tiny parameters?  These are a few insights that came to me.

Choosing These Walls

The Covid-19 pandemic is not something we’ve chosen.  Staying home all day every day is not what even the most introverted home-body among us would want.  St. Therese, on the other hand, fought to enter the small convent in Lisieux, and promised to spend the rest of her life there.  She even went so far as to beg for special permission to enter early at the age of sixteen.  Why?  Because Christ was inviting her to union with him there.  She felt God was calling her to sink her roots, grow, and bloom within the tiny garden plot of Carmel.

I didn’t choose this pandemic, but while it lasts, can I choose my four walls as a sacred space not only of protection, but of growth and union with the Lord? THIS is where he is – for me – in the present moment.  How does this act of choosing – or at least intentional acceptance of these walls – change my mind-set for daily living?

Transcending These Walls

Our purpose for staying home:  keeping ourselves and others safe from a potentially deadly virus.  If you’re like me, safety having been greatly achieved by our staying home, I need some other sense of purpose and progress around which to focus my little daily universe.   What gave St. Therese purpose waking up each morning to a day much like the day before?

St. Therese’s purpose was union with Jesus.  Knowing she couldn’t be perfect, and doubtful she could become a great saint, St. Therese embraced the little way of abandoning herself completely to Jesus – letting him tend her soul and accepting everything beyond her control as part of his work.  “I wish to find an elevator which would raise me to Jesus, for I am too small to climb the rough stairway of perfection.”  “The elevator which must raise me to heaven is your arms, O Jesus!”  (Story of a Soul)

As Catholics, no matter our vocation, our life’s purpose is union with Jesus.  For me in my younger years, this meant trying really hard to do all the right things.  I am gradually finding that my primary action needs to be letting Jesus do what he wants in me – through all the circumstances of un-romanticized life.  The weather is gray and snowy and it’s April.  Can I say, “Thank you, Jesus!”?  My three-year-old is in his second “time out” by 10 a.m.  Does my heart confidently beg, “Help me, Jesus!”?  I wonder what life will look like in two months and if I’ll be able to remain sane and joyful and patient.  With peace, can I whisper, “I trust in you, Jesus!”?  I feel sad and worried.  I feel directionless.  I feel lonely.  I’m tired.  Can my prayer be, “Jesus, I surrender myself to you!  Use all of this, today, to do what you want in my soul.  I can’t do it.  Lift me up above these walls to a new, closer union with you”?

Loving Within These Walls

Another way of summing up St. Therese’s purpose in cloistered life was to love.  What was out of her control, St. Therese accepted, abandoning herself to God’s love.  What was in her control, she decided to actively use for this same purpose of love.  Her little way made her choose the space nearest the sister who always sloshed the laundry water on her.  To offer up the annoyance of her chapel neighbor’s rattling rosary beads as a little sacrifice accepted for love.  To seek out and speak kind words to the sister she most disliked.

With the eyes to see it, daily life – in a religious community, in a marriage, in a family – provides countless opportunities to love.  Instead of simply living or surviving, can I be actively loving?  It may look like I’m smiling as a natural reaction to my son, but can I be loving?  I’m folding loads of necessary laundry, but can I be loving?  I feel lazy, yet know getting out for a brisk walk will be good for all involved . . .I’m racking my brain for a creative dinner menu. . . I’m listening to my spouse. . . can I be loving?  These four walls hold limitless chances to love, each new day.

Loving Beyond These Walls

While the former point might seem more applicable to those living with family members, St. Therese’s little way of love has plenty of applications for those living alone.  You may already know that she is the patroness of missions.  Yes, the little nun who never left her convent, is a model for missionaries!  She understood the Mystical Body of Christ and the timeless-spaceless nature of the “economy of grace.”  She offered all of her daily realities in Lisieux – her prayers, her acts of love, her sacrifices for love – that souls everywhere may know the love of Jesus.  Now there’s a truth that can expand our vision beyond our own four walls!

Maybe you’re doing laundry for yourself, but even that can be done with love and offered for those in need of God’s healing presence anywhere in the world!   The pain of being isolated, living alone, is a real suffering for you.  Why can’t that sacrifice united to Christ’s, along with your prayers – within your four walls—be the strength of the exhausted nurses caring for the sick, the provision for the family in financial crisis, the consolation of those dying alone?  And while there is the love mystically sent beyond our walls, let’s not forget the very concrete, very creative ways in which we can still love our extended family, friends, neighbors, and communities – beyond our walls.

I hope these little insights might encourage you to love, to hope, to see your four walls differently.  Dust off your copy of Story of a Soul and comment below on what insights you receive!

St. Therese, pray for us, and shower us with some of those heavenly roses you promised!

Copyright 2020 Kristi Quinlan

Kristi Quinlan is new to Des Moines, moving to the area for her husband Tom's work. After earning her BA in education from the University of Dallas, Kristi spent several years studying and working as a Catholic missionary. She enjoyed five years as a parish Faith Formation Director in the suburbs of Chicago, until she landed a new "full-time job" at home keeping up with her two sons (3 and 1). Kristi is constantly seeking outlets for creativity whether that's in the kitchen, on canvas, or within the sphere of Catholic ministry.

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