Blessed Teresa, soon to be St Teresa, of Calcutta was a great saint and a mystic who suffered in an extraordinarily way for Christ.
But she was very dedicated to the ordinary way of holiness forged first by St Thérèse of Lisieux. She famously said that the way of most people to sanctity is not to face and overcome great trials but to do ‘little things with great love’. She also, often, spoke of the importance of showing love first to one’s family at home.
The last fortnight’s little string of domestic crises confirmed for me that I am a tiny little soul capable of very little suffering, but, nevertheless, like everyone else, given opportunities to grow in great love!
First, my husband and I fell sick with a cold the weekend before school started.
It looked like lousy timing. Three of our children were settling into new schools, and I wanted to get the house back in order after the holidays.
I had wanted to do a little bit of planning to set up one or two new things for Lent as well. This was going to be a simple but beautiful family Lent.
I hoped to make sure the younger children, especially, had some practical experience of learning at home what this season is all about.
I just wanted something like a good deeds jar of marbles and some nice purple cloth to put in our prayer space. I wanted to find some new short prayers and think about how to incorporate them into our days.
With the expectation of having the children at school I also hoped to do some extra writing and some organising at home, and I’d just committed to a fairly low-key challenge to try to do 100 days of creativity and journalling.
But my cold became bronchitis and I was easily fatigued. I had to drop all my plans and do the strict minimum of activity I needed to help make sure everyone was fed, dressed, and getting to and from school.
I hated feeling like I was getting behind on work – especially the housework. I hated not being as attentive as I wanted for our children’s entry into new classes and schools.
I hated waking some of the family through the night with my coughing.
One afternoon I feel asleep, worn out by the school pick-up routine, and the children managed themselves until Peter came home. He took up a lot of my slack while still feeling not great himself and I felt guilty about that.
But each time I hated, and felt guilt, discouragement, shame and irritation, I reminded myself of the flip side.
How blessed am I to live in this house, with this work to occupy my mind and hands and give purpose to my every day? How blessed am I to have this husband, and these children? How blessed to be so healthy that this minor disruption is a major challenge for me?
I wondered whether this was, in part, a lesson for me in how little I am actually able to suffer for Christ. If so, good! Then I can pray, ‘Lord, have mercy on me,’ and mean it because I know better how weak I really am and how much God needs to care for me.
Now we are well into Lent and I didn’t get to do any of the preparation I’d wanted to do for one of my favourite times of the year. Does it matter? Not really.
I’ve already had a desert experience of sorts. I just haven’t had much chance to choose my own penances.
I’ve fasted from food, partly by choice and partly from illness, but more importantly I’ve had to fast from the satisfaction of having things done the way I like them done around the house and with the children. I’ve had to fast from having my own will satisfied every day.
Our children have had the opportunity to give alms to their parents, doing more than their usual share of chores which otherwise wouldn’t have been done.
We’ve all had to focus on helping each other more in order to get things done and people where they needed to go.
Peter and I still managed to get to Ash Wednesday Mass with our children and some events at schools by co-operating more than we usually would need to.
I’ve had to call upon what humility, patience and gratitude I’m capable of, and hopefully strengthened these virtues a little.
And I’ve offered up my little bout of sickness to Jesus in union with Archbishop Fisher in his recovery from illness this Lent.
I haven’t handled these two weeks perfectly, but our parish has extra times of Reconciliation available now, so there’s a remedy for that.
I figure that our family is in fact on track for a beautiful and meaningful Lent after all. But I can’t help but hope that the rest of the season is a bit easier on us!