Therese of Lisieux and Finding Your Identity

Our whole lives are about identifying ourselves – especially in relation to others. In fact, almost every title that I identify myself by directly connects me to another person – I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am a friend. There are also titles that connect me to institutions – I am a student. I am a Baptist. But all of these titles and means of identification force me to look outside of myself for internal validation of who I am.

At Vintage last Friday we talked about Therese of Lisieux, a Carmelite nun that spent ten of her 24 years with prayer as her only work. It’s fair to say that her identity was very clearly bound up and enmeshed in God. But for those of us who are not nuns or cannot devote every hour of our day to prayer, I think it is less obvious – certainly when compared to Therese – that we can be identified by our connection to God.

In an adapted version of Therese’s writing by Scott Cairns, Therese speaks pleads with souls to let Jesus in.

Notice!

Jesus stands just before you,

Waiting in the tabernacle shaped for you –

Shaped precisely for you!

He burns with great desire

To enter into your heart.

 

Ignore the yammering demon

Telling you ‘not so!’ Laugh in his pinched face

And turn without fear to receive

The Jesus of quiet calm and utmost love.

 

Partake of His Mysteries often, often as you can,

For in Them you find your sole, entire remedy,

Assuming—of course—you would be cured.

Jesus has not impressed this hunger in your heart for nothing.

 

This gentle Guest of our souls

Knows our every ache and misery.

He enters, desiring to find a tent,

A bower prepared for His arrival within us,

And that is all, all He asks of us.

 

In her writing, the intimacy between Jesus and the human soul is made clear – it is a divine intrusion. Even in the verbs she uses, it is evident that Jesus is not passive in his waiting for us to accept His invitation. He wants to enter, to cure, to impress. But most importantly, Jesus wants to become part of us. In this entering and curing and impressing, He should become a part of the fabric of our soul. Indeed, as Ruth Haley Barton wrote in her book Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, “There is a place within each one of us that is spiritual in nature, the place where God’s Spirit witnesses without our spirit about our truest identity. Here God’s Spirit dwells within our spirit, and here our truest desires make themselves known.”

Somewhere within what we currently exist as, we are already validated. And when we recognize the place where God dwells within us, we no longer have to seek external connections to support our fickle identities. We are found within.

-Rhody Mastin, UVA 2015

Theological Horizons Communications Intern