September 16, 2023 - Marisa Guerin, PhD
Most of us have a tendency toward perfectionism. In minor matters, perfectionism might be mildly annoying but not a big deal. It becomes more serious when it pushes and bullies us on the inside and when we transfer that demanding pressure onto those around us. It is a grim and exhausting way to go through life. Healing from perfectionism is one of the most liberating gifts of Thérèse’s wisdom.
With profoundly original insight, Thérèse grasped that it was neither necessary nor possible for her to save herself, to climb the rugged mountain of holiness on her own, to achieve goodness by herself. God’s loving arms would be her “elevator!” Her heart registered that the Little Way of trust in the love of God was truer than the narrative of willful striving that surrounded her. The source of Thérèse's joy was her conviction that she was loved just as she was. This bedrock trust in the unfailing love of God can be a healing perspective for us as well, dissolving the inner perfectionist.
Thérèse confidently shared the reassuring message of her Little Way to those she counseled. As she didn’t scold herself when she failed, she didn’t suggest to others that they reproach or punish themselves. She advises us to acknowledge our mistakes honestly and compassionately, to ask God’s mercy, and continue to do our best to be loving.
My favorite line from her writings is the one where she encourages her sister Celine to "bear serenely the trial of being displeasing to herself." I can easily see myself recognizing when I have messed up, but much less easily can I take that on "serenely," without beating up on myself. And yet, I am pretty sure that I am easier to live with when I can acknowledge my own mis-steps with patient kindness to myself, and simply move on with hopes to do better next time. (To fuss excessively over my mistakes is to imply that normally, I AM perfect!)
Thérèse mentors us in the practice of letting go our embarrassments, taking a deep breath in the face of our regrets, and practicing self-compassion. Let it be our daily practice to forgive ourselves, just as we can trust that God forgives us every time we repent our mistakes.
This seventh reflection brings to a close the Thérèse Challenge Week. May we do our best to return with a peaceful heart each day to the path of love -- the simple, challenging Little Way of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
If you have appreciated these daily reflections this week, they have come from this little book: "Life Lessons from St. Therese of Lisieux," available from Word Among Us Press.
Best wishes, Marisa Guerin