Learning about Suffering from St. Thérèse – Excerpt from Dawn Eden’s "My Peace I Give You"
A couple years ago I devoured Dawn Eden’s memoir, The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On. It was an edgy, beautiful work reminiscent of St. Augustine’s Confessions in that Dawn journeyed from a searching agnosticism, laced with promiscuity, into the warm, safe arms of the Church.
As good as that book was, however, I think her newest one is even better. My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds With the Help of the Saints (Ave Maria Press, 256 pages, paperback) was released last week and I could hardly put it down. Dawn shows how the lives of the saints can provide spiritual aid to any suffering, and that’s good news for all of us. She weaves in her own story of childhood sexual abuse and also shares the healing she’s found through the saints. While the book does center on sexual abuse in particular, My Peace I Give You is helpful for anyone who has been wounded in any way.
I’ll be interviewing Dawn this Thursday, but she graciously allowed me to post an excerpt from the new book today.
This excerpt is from Chapter 4 of Dawn’s book, My Peace I Give To You: Healing Sexual Wounds With the Help of the Saints, and it shows how we can learn the value of suffering from St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
The Love that Transforms
Learning the true meaning of spiritual childhood with St. Thérèse of Lisieux
Most of what we know of St. Thérèse (1873–1897), a nun of the Carmelite convent at Lisieux, France, is from The Story of a Soul, a collection of autobiographical writings. In 1895, Thérèse began the work in obedience to an order given by the prioress of her community, Mother Agnes, who happened to be her real-life sister Pauline. Mother Agnes had enjoyed hearing Thérèse speak of her childhood memories and wanted to have a permanent record of them.
Thérèse, although only twenty-two, was already well advanced on the path to holiness at the time she began her autobiography. She saw her sister’s order as an opportunity to “begin to sing what I must sing eternally: ‘The Mercies of the Lord.’”
With those words, Thérèse shows us the proper role of memory. Memory is not to be feared; it is to be purified in the white heat of divine love. As divine love’s light enters into the wounds left by past sorrows, we come to realize how the divine mercy carried us even during the times of our lives when we felt abandoned by God.
That is why, in the opening pages of her autobiography, Thérèse stresses that she is thankful for the gift of remembrance: “God granted me the favor of opening my intelligence at an early age and of imprinting childhood recollections so deeply on my memory that it seems the things I’m about to recount happened only yesterday.”
Her memories were inseparable from her gratitude for divine providence. All the things that had happened to her, whether pleasurable or painful at the time, were now visible to her only through the light of God’s loving plan for her life. This is a saint who, even while enduring the most intense physical sufferings on her deathbed, was able to say, “everything is a grace” and really mean it.
As she continues her story, it seems Thérèse stresses her gratitude partly to steel the reader for the many childhood sufferings she will recount. One could say, in a sense, that she sees her life as the story of a soul who went from suffering without God to suffering with God.
Of course, as Thérèse would be the first to say, God is never truly absent from us. However, we can will to deny him entrance into our heart. When we hold onto resentment that our own will is not being done, we become locked in a solitary prison of self-pity.
Thérèse herself experienced the interior pain of this prison. The key that freed her is what she wants to share with us: the realization that, to the degree that we can say “Not my will, but thy will be done,” suffering can become the foundation for a closer union with God. Thérèse spoke of this during her final illness: “I have suffered very much since I have been on earth, but, if in my childhood I suffered with sadness, it is no longer the way I suffer. It is with joy and peace.”
Excerpted from My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints by Dawn Eden. Copyright 2012. Ave Maria Press Notre Dame, IN. www.avemariapress.com. All rights reserved.