January 6, 2017 // Feast of St. Andre Bessette
When I was in my teens, I heard many well-meaning adults tell me that I was “going to do great things.” As a young adult, I was a gifted writer, loved reading, and always had a fresh idea. When adults told me that I was going to do great things, I believed them. I looked forward to the day when I could take my place in the spotlight and show the world my great ability.
As I made my way through high school I dreamed of developing my “great thing” in college. While studying to become an English teacher, I thought of ways to spruce up my resume so when the time came for me to do the great thing, I’d have the experience to match it. (If you can’t tell, I wasn’t really for sure what my “great thing” was.) But, after college, when I was awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to South Korea, I thought I was a big deal. After all, the Fulbright is the most sought after international exchange program in the world and the Korean program only accepted 18-20% of its applicants.
However, shortly after arriving in East Asia, I felt as if everything was halted. Among my peers in the program, it seemed as if so many of them had already accomplished their great thing, and I had nothing. A few teachers had started non-profits, some went to elite schools, and others spoke multiple languages. I was just a girl from Central Kentucky who spoke halted Spanish and whose most exciting achievement was visiting all 50 states and the pyramids in Egypt. Compared to others back home, I was quite cosmopolitan. When stacked against all of the other Fulbrighters, however, I was like the person who goes to the local Chinese buffet and talks about how “authentic” it is. I felt fake.
Upon my return from overseas, I settled into a teaching job in Western Kentucky and began my master’s degree in English as second language education. After a year of globe-trotting and living in the babble of foreign language, teaching language arts to 7th graders just didn’t measure up in terms of excitement. I became depressed and wondered if this was my great thing: teaching writing in a school that embodied chaos while waiting for the next vacation. It was a tough year. The years following my first teaching assignment, while much easier professionally, did not offer me any consolation in terms of what my great thing was. I held on tight to what was told to me years ago: I was going to achieve greatness.
Often, I would read the lives of the saints for inspiration. Sometimes, though, my reading became a source of discontent. For example, Carmelite nun and Doctor of the Church, St. Therese of Lisieux frequently wrote about her “little way:” becoming small for Christ. Mother Teresa, founder of the Missionaries of Charity is noted as saying that “we can do no great things…[just] small things with great love.” The idea of a “little way” and “small things with great love” appealed to me, but St. Therese and Mother Teresa had a platform! Everyone watched their destinies unfold: Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity, while St. Therese became known worldwide through her writings after her death at age 24. Everyone knew they lived for Christ, it was evident to those who encountered these great saints. Foolishly, I feared that no one would know that I too could do great things. I feared that my “little way” may be much smaller than that of St. Therese’s. Maybe it would be too little. It was a scary thought.
As the years continued to pass, I found myself preparing for my confirmation in the Catholic Church. I often attended weekly Adoration at my parish, and spent hours praying before the Lord. On one occasion, I asked God how I could help those around me. I wanted to make a difference, but I didn’t know how. I wanted to do something. I was still searching for my great thing. In less than a second of finishing my prayer, the Holy Spirit said, “Pray, you can pray.”
I sat relieved, yet a little disappointed. Here, I had just asked Our Lord how I can help those around me and He responds with pray. There was no “Drop what you’re doing and go to a far away country.” It was simply pray. My own expectations had collided with the will of Christ: I wanted big acts, He wanted little ones. That day I sat and prayed for those I knew, but still thought about how I could do my great thing. For over a year, I struggled with my desire for greatness and my desire to also do what God wanted from me (which I believed was intercessory prayer).
Fast forward to the morning December 8th, 2017, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. I am still praying for others during Adoration, but still wondering what my great thing is. After finishing my morning prayers and daily Mass readings, I begin to get ready for school. I open my podcast app, and begin to listen to the many Catholic shows in my queue. As I’m passively listening to the show and struggling to put on eyeliner, my attention is suddenly piqued. The host begins talking about “great things.” I listen more carefully, and what I hear cuts to my heart. The truth behind our promise of accomplishing “great things” is this:
Yes, others may tell you that you’re destined to do great things. But, the great thing that will happen is the great work God does in your soul.
I was stunned. The answer I had searched for since my pre-teen days had finally arrived. I was not responsible for my “great things.” Rather, my one great thing is what I let Jesus do with my heart and soul. Sure, I had known that I have to let God do His work in me, but I never, ever thought of that as my great thing. In my finite wisdom, I imagined my success would amount to a small amount of notoriety. Notoriety is nothing compared to the work Christ can do in mine (and your!) heart. The only great thing we can do is allow God to shape our lives in conformity to Him. No degrees, titles, resumes, or Fulbright awards will amount to anything if we refuse to let Christ break open our lives for His sake. They are only great, hollow things.
However, though I’ve experienced a great relief, it doesn’t mean I still don’t struggle with my own feelings of “Am I doing enough? Is this great enough for God? I can never be like St. Fill-in-the-Blank.” But, just this week, I received a blank journal in the mail. To my surprise, the front cover was embossed with this quote from Mother Angelica, founder of EWTN:
“Let us not be confused by the talents and missions of other saints. Let us be the kind of saints we were created to be.”
You and I, while we are all united in Christ, we are different individuals. Though I began to pout, thinking that I’d never write as well as St. Therese or be as humble as St. Andre Bessette, God used the late Mother Angelica’s words to set me straight. No, I am not Mother Theresa, St. Paul, St. Lucy, or any other great Christian remembered by history. I was not called to be those people.
Instead, I am to “be the kind of saint [I] was created to be.” May you too find the peace of Christ at work in your heart.
My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior. // Luke 1:46
It is with the smallest brushes that the Artist paints the best paintings. // St. Andre Bessette