I also just thought she was weird. She knew that she wanted to be a sister from the age of 3 (I mean, really!?), her family was really holy (all her sisters joined the Carmelites and her parents are on their way to sainthood), and she would dress up as saints when she was little. I just couldn't relate to her.
Her humility and sheer love of God just rubbed me the wrong way because it challenged me. It challenged my pride and my reasons for following God. St. Therese loved Jesus simply because of who He is, not because of what He could do for her.
Now that I understand her "little way" a tiny bit better, here are three ways St. Therese has helped me grow in love of the Lord. Hopefully she can help you too.
1. Interior Freedom. Freedom, and what it really means, has been a big theme in my life lately. St. Therese was one of the most free people who has ever lived. In America, I think we define freedom as being able to do or get what I want, when I want it. In reality, freedom is about our ability to choose how to respond what comes to us. St. Therese recognized that she could come to the Father by choosing to accept whatever came into her path with joy. This doesn't mean things will be easy, but it shapes our outlook on each situation that comes to us.
One of my favorite and least favorite stories about St. Therese is about how there was a Sister in the convent who annoyed her. Like, really irritated her to no end. Think about what you do when you encounter someone you don't like. I avoid them as best as I can, and sometimes I can be mean. It's an emotional response that is defensive, and focused on my comfort. But what did St. Therese do? She spent so much time with this Sister that the Sister believed they were best friends. This is what love is, this is what freedom is. St. Therese chose to take the things that annoyed her and accepted them with joy. She chose love and because of that, she grew in her capacity to love this Sister and all others.
2. Being Little. This part of St. Therese's spirituality is gold, but I misunderstood it so much. St. Therese speaks of how she wants to be a saint, but the saints seem so high and lofty and holy compared to her. Since she was so free, she was able to see herself as she was, and found what she was able to offer to the Lord. These were things like chores, being kind to those who annoyed her, and finding Jesus everywhere in her little daily life. She found what she can do and how that can help the world.
"Each small task of everyday life is part of the total harmony of the universe."
"I realized that if every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose it's loveliness and there would be no wild flowers to make the meadows gay. It is just the same in the world of souls - which is the garden of Jesus. He has created the great saints who are like the lilies and the roses, but He has also created much lesser saints and they must be content to be the daises or the violets which rejoice His eyes whenever He glances down. Perfection consists in doing His will, in being that which He wants us to be."I didn't like this teaching because I wanted to be a rose. I have a picture of what holiness looks like, and if my life doesn't match it completely, then clearly that means God doesn't love me and I'm not good enough for His love. St. Therese's little way is the exact opposite of this. She teaches us how to accept the love Jesus has for us. This love will always be enough. A full dixie cup is still full, is it not? That is the way God's love is with us. He allows us to be full to our capacity. We cannot compare ourselves to others because Jesus gives us the exact amount of love that we need. (seriously, listen to Fr. Mike's homily.)
I now see that holiness looks different for different people. Jesus has created a path for me. He has a specific and unique love for me. And this is enough. When I struggle with this, I turn to St. Therese and her grace filled understanding of God's love and my unique capacity to receive it.
3. A Fiery Love of Jesus and His People. This girl was, is, on fire. She understood that Jesus is the source and summit of everything and that only in Him can we find our happiness. As you read her diary you see that all she desires is to be with her Beloved and to make Him happy. She even once wrote that she would go to Hell if it would make God happy, and she would just love Him from there. This passion and surrender to providence teaches me how to love Jesus with my whole heart.
Therese of Lisieux is a saint because she sought Jesus in every part of her life and she strove to love Him with every part of her being. She is an example to us in what choosing love looks like. Though I could not initially relate to her, now her love of Jesus inspires me to love Him as best as I can.
St. Therese of Lisieux, pray for us!