I have been taking a class for my Masters called “Classics in Christian Spirituality” that has been fascinating. Many of those we have read are often overlooked in Protestant denominations as we do not often look to the saints of the Catholic church. Yet I think it is fascinating and encouraging to look at the lives of many who have gone before us and some of the practices they employed to draw closer to God. In more recent history, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux was a nun in France at the end of the 19th Century. While she died when she was only 24 years old, there are two things which I would like to highlight from my reading of her autobiography, The Story of a Soul.
Fear of God
Fear of God can be a very healthy of unhealthy thing. However, fear of God as a vengeful tyrant is dangerous, scary, and unhealthy for believers and missing who God truly is. Throughout many periods of history, the church has run out of an unhealthy fear of God’s wrath and judgement and Thérèse saw this as a problem in her time. An unhealthy fear of God is stifling and hinders our ability to experience the freedom which we can find only in God.
While I am not going to get into the healthy fear of God in this article, I am going to give Thérèse’s method to combat unhealthy fear. Look throughout the Bible at the maternal images we get of God throughout both Testaments. From the pictures we get of nursing, the tender nurturing nature of God, and many others, we see that God isn’t a wrathful angry God. Yes, he is just, and justice requires the punishment of evil, but out of God’s love he has offered us forgiveness and reconciliation through Christ.
In regard to Jesus, Thérèse makes an insightful remark of how we can be afraid of an “angry” God when he steps out of heaven and becomes a baby. Think about the depth and the truth in this. If God was angry and wrathful, why in the world would he leave the comfort of heaven to become a baby dependent on sinful and broken people for food and care. This is not a God who is fundamentally angry and to be feared, but one that is love and loves us deeper than we could ever know or understand. Because of this love and comfort in the presence of God, Thérèse would come before the Lord with outstretched arms and complete trust.
The Little Way
An incredibly insightful realization, Thérèse is best known for her “spirituality” of the little way. Thérèse desired to become a saint of the church, but the longer she was there, the smaller and more insignificant she would feel. While many others working in the church were doing high and lofty things, Thérèse felt inadequate and unimportant. However, as she began to study the Bible and see the numerous passages about God’s care for the smallest and lowest, Thérèse found her worth and purpose.
Similar to Brother Lawrence, Thérèse’s “Little Way” is simply doing the small menial tasks in love as working for the Lord and loving those she comes in contact with. The name “The Little Way” is the perfect title as this spirituality is about doing the little everyday things in life for God. St. Thérèse defined the little way as the “commitment to the tasks and to the people we meet in our everyday lives.”
St. Thérèse made the Christian spiritual and “holy” life possible for everyday Christians by putting it in terms that could be understood. The holy life for St. Thérèse involves a proper view of God as the loving God he is and not an angry spiteful God. From Thérèse we can learn to see God as love and we can see what it looks like to live our lives working for the Lord in all that we do. So remember in the small tasks that seem pointless to work it for the Lord and not for people.