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Center for Action and Contemplation
A Spirituality of Imperfection
A Spirituality of Imperfection

Tiny Opportunities to Love

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Memoirist Heather King spent a year praying with Thérèse of Lisieux’s insights, and describes how Thérèse practiced her “little way” through relationships:

Some of the best-known anecdotes about Thérèse concern her saintlike, though seemingly small efforts with respect to her fellow nuns:

  1. She overcame her instinctive dislike of a particular nun, and . . . [exhibited] such charity that the sister actually thought Thérèse felt a special fondness for her.
  2. She stifled her almost compulsive desire to turn around and glare at the nun behind her in choir who made a clicking noise (apparently by tapping her rosary against her teeth), realizing that the more charitable act would be to pretend that the sound was music to Christ’s ears and endure the annoyance in silence.
  3. Every evening at dinnertime Thérèse took it upon herself to usher a particularly vexatious elderly nun from chapel to her place at table in the refectory, even going the extra mile to lovingly cut the crabapple’s bread.

Saints do not live in some other world. . . . They live in the same world we do, and they show us that spirituality is intensely down-to-earth. We learn to love through frustration, disappointment, and failure. We learn through the seemingly trivial incidents of our daily lives.

“When I am feeling nothing . . . then is the moment for seeking opportunities, nothings, which please Jesus. . . . For example, a smile, a friendly word, when I would want to say nothing, or put on a look of annoyance,” [1] Thérèse wrote, and “I have no desire to go to Lourdes to have ecstasies. I prefer (the monotony of sacrifice)!” [2]

King applies the spirit of Thérèse’s small, loving acts to her own life:

I began to see the almost superhuman strength required to refrain from, say, repeating a juicy bit of gossip, or rolling my eyes, or allowing my voice to get harsh when I was upset. I began to sense as well that, just because they’re so difficult, such acts perhaps do far more good than we can ever know. Standing patiently in line helped the other people in line to be patient as well. Blessing the other person in traffic, even though nobody heard or saw, somehow encouraged someone else to bless the next person. When the neighborhood noise bothered me, I sometimes took to starting with one corner of my apartment complex, visualizing the person or people who lived there, and working my way around, praying for the inhabitants of each. (Other times I took to tearing out my hair and cursing.) . . .

We can try, at great personal sacrifice, to be perfectly righteous, a perfect friend, perfectly responsive, perfectly available, perfectly forgiving. But at the heart of our efforts must lie the knowledge that, by ourselves, we can do, heal, or correct nothing. The point is not to be perfect, but to “perfectly” leave Christ to do, heal, and correct in us what he wills.


[1] Therese to Céline, July 18, 1893, in Thérèse of Lisieux: General Correspondence, vol. 2, 1890–1897, trans. John Clarke (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1988), 801.

[2] Thérèse to Agnes of Jesus, May 10, 1890, in Thérèse of Lisieux: General Correspondence, vol. 1, 1877–1890, trans. John Clarke (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1982), 620.

Heather King, Shirt of Flame: A Year with Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2011), 71–73, 76.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Arthur Allen, Daily Meditations 9 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Katrina Lillian Sorrentino, Entelechy 8 (detail), 2022, photograph, Spain, used with permission. Belinda Rain, Frost (detail), 1972, California, public domain. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: We pause to appreciate the seemingly insignificant and experience the awe of the simple and unexpected.

Story from Our Community:

For years I thought that being a good mom was trying to be perfect. I had so very many imperfect moments in my past, and so many of those were of my own doing. So, I imagined that the best gift I could give my kids was to show them how much I’d changed, and how “perfect” I had become. . . I thought because I am “the mom” I was required to suck it up, to hide my feelings, and to act nice, to keep myself worthy of their love… But that day is over. I am ready to come clean and allow myself to be seen [as] a human being, and a mother who feels deeply and loves with pure abandon. My heart deserves to breathe…and I will no longer hide my humanity. —Holly K.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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