teresa_di_lisieux_4“I think I need a new patron saint, “ I told my husband.

“Is that even allowed?” he replied, turning from the sink where he was finishing up the dinner dishes.

“I’m not sure,” I said, immediately feeling guilty and changing the subject. It wasn’t that I didn’t love St. Therese any more. It was just that I was having a hard time connecting.

When I started RCIA, I already knew which saint I would choose for my confirmation saint. I had read her book, Story of a Soul, several times, highlighting my favorite passages and putting quotes from it on my desk. I wanted to be a missionary, and St. Therese was a patroness and encourager of missionaries. Besides, I loved her simple philosophy of giving glory to God by doing small tasks with great love. Her idea that even small sacrifices had value as offerings to God felt right to me. I knew Therese was my kindred spirit.

As the years passed and my missionary zeal faded in the glow of marriage, work, and children, I didn’t think as much about Therese. The more I immersed myself in the living of my life, especially as more children arrived, the more the gap widened in my relationship with her. I felt she couldn’t relate to how things were for me now. How much does a mother of four small kids have in common with a young, unmarried, cloistered nun? It was fine for her to talk about her spiritual ways, but I had piles of laundry to fold and sandwiches to make and noses to wipe and diapers to change.

This year, as her feast day approached, I pulled out a picture of St. Therese and promised myself I would reach out to her. Maybe I’d reread my old copy of Story of a Soul, or pray my old St. Therese chaplet, or do a novena. Maybe I’d just try to dedicate my small acts of service to God in her honor. I had plans, and I meant to follow through. By midmorning on her feast day, though, I was ready to give up. I couldn’t find my copy of the book or my chaplet. The kids were wild, and I’d already lost my temper with them. Lucy kicked me in the face while I was changing her diaper, which she had chosen to use instead of going to the potty “on purpose!” she shouted gleefully, thrilled with her own control over the situation. My teeth were gritted, my heart was heavy, and I felt that the gulf between me and my saint had never been wider.

That evening, propped up in bed with a fussy baby, I was feeling quite sorry for myself. Here I was, on the feast day of my patroness, and I couldn’t even manage to do anything for her. Frustrated, I told her I was sorry for messing everything up. My eyes fell on my rosary beside me on the bedside table, and I remembered a story about St. Therese having ongoing difficulty staying awake during the recitation of the rosary.

Suddenly, I realized why I was having such a hard time connecting with her now. I was focusing on all the ways in which she was holier than I was…her great love, her spiritual understanding, and her closeness to Jesus. Somehow, I had forgotten to remember how she developed her Little Way in the first place.

Therese felt she was too flawed, too insignificant and too unworthy to do great things for God. She developed her Little Way so that she could use her small sacrifices and acts of service to show Jesus she loved him. She wasn’t perfect at all. That was exactly her appeal. Her faults were exactly why she was still the perfect saint for me.

I am not a missionary serving in an exotic location now. On any given day, I’m wiping a lot of noses and cleaning up spills and pulling cereal out of children’s hair. I might even be grumpy while I’m doing those things. I realize now, though, that every time I have one of those tasks to complete, every time I am a servant to one of my children or to my husband, every time I do a small act in love, I am honoring God. I don’t have to be perfect. I just have to try to love, as Therese did…and I have plenty of opportunities for that.

Copyright 2014 Abbey Dupuy