Grief is completely irrational. It also has a way of sneaking up on us when we least expect it. At a retreat center recently, I sat to put on my socks when it dawned on me, “Oh, this is a rocking chair!” That simple thought brought an unexpected deluge of tears and sobs as I whispered, “My baby boy! My baby boy!”
I was not at the retreat house to process my own grief. I was there to serve others, yet, there I was; alone in my room feeling miserable and sad and empty.
I thought of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and her “little way”. She teaches and models unshakeable confidence in God, trust beyond what seems reasonable, and love that smiles in the midst of suffering. She doesn’t deny the enormity of grief. Hers is not a “fake it ’til you make it” philosophy.
No. she simply embraces her own littleness. She understands that the path before her is too hard to navigate alone. Rather than bemoaning the ways she falls short, or tripping over her faults and failings, she trusts, moment by moment, without reserve, in the merciful love of God.
Thérèse was born into a suffering family. Zelie Martin, her mother was well acquainted with grief. Having lost several children in their infancy and fearing that baby Thérèse would not survive, Zelie sent her to live with a wet nurse until she was healthy enough to return home. Sadly, Zelie herself died while Thérèse was still a child. A few years later, her older sister who nurtured her after their mother’s death, entered a cloistered convent. Thérèse’s father who affectionately called her his “little queen”, died after she entered the convent. And in the end she suffered from tuberculosis which, in those days, was incurable. Thérèse’s short life was filled with grief from beginning to end.
And yet she is most remembered for her insistence that small acts done with great love delight the heart of God more than great things without love.
Following her little way I took a deep breath and joined the retreat participants and the rest of the team at breakfast. So began a day filled with innumerable victories and a deep awareness of God’s merciful love.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, he saves those whose spirit is crushed. Psalm 34:18