Photo by Katie Moretta
“What am I going to do with my life?”
This question feels unanswerable. On some days I want to become a teacher, others a social worker, others an academic, and by the end of each week I just want to be retired. I’m burning myself out trying to find an answer.
But I’m starting to realize, with the help of my sister St. Thérèse, that this question feels unanswerable because it is unanswerable. In fact, it’s the wrong question altogether.
St. Thérèse never asked, “What am I going to do with my life?”
Instead, she lived this question: “What are you going to do with my life, Jesus?”
And more importantly, she lived this answer: “Everything for you, Jesus.”
She lived surrender and trust. She took the focus off herself and cast it entirely on Christ.
Part of the problem with the question “What am I going to do with my life?” is that it puts the onus on me, so I try to answer it with what I see in front of me. That is, an attempt at worldly greatness.
Naturally, since so much in life is out of my control, this answer leaves me feeling anxious and unfulfilled.
Thérèse aspired to greatness too – she wanted to be a Saint! And here I am, feeling even too small to cope with pursuing a career once I graduate. But this is because, while I have my eyes on the road ahead of me, Thérèse had eyes only for Jesus.
My planner last year had these words on the cover: “She believed she could, so she did.” But this philosophy, while empowering on the surface, is so flawed!
Thérèse knew she couldn’t, but she knew Jesus could, so she threw herself into His arms. She knew that “God would never inspire me with desires which cannot be realized; so in spite of my littleness, I can hope to be a saint.”
Her hope was an active hope. She says that she felt the stairway to perfection was too daunting for such a small soul, so she embraced her littleness, knowing that Christ would reach down his hands and be her “elevator” to perfection.
But what did she actually do?
I find myself struggling to answer this question about her. She didn’t get a PhD, convert to Catholicism, then die as a Carmelite in Auschwitz like Edith Stein. She didn’t have stigmata like Padre Pio. And she didn’t have visions like St. Faustina.
When I describe her life I find myself stumbling over the death of her mother when she was young and her battle with scruples, trying to make her seem bigger than she is. Trying to make the person I'm talking to see how great she is. But that is the last thing she would have wanted! No doubt she is shaking her head even as I write this.
She is quoted saying, “I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifices to all ecstasies. To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.”
And, “Jesus does not demand great actions from us, but simply surrender and gratitude.”
This is the opposite of worldly greatness. In the eyes of the world, St. Thérèse didn’t really do anything with her life. She barely even left Lisieux. Her life was so very small.
But when you replace “What am I going to do with my life” with “Everything for you, Jesus,” then there is no more nagging question. Worldly greatness doesn’t matter anymore. We fit snugly into Christ’s hands (our elevator to Heaven!), and every small moment becomes an act of love.
Keeping my desk tidy, washing the dishes, walking to class in the rain, waking up early, writing an essay I feel no passion for… St. Thérèse shows us that no small act is wasted if we do it for love. Or, rather, capital “L” Love.
We still strive for greatness, but we know that no worldly greatness can ever amount to what awaits us in Heaven.
Everything for you, Jesus.