Chapter 1: Early Childhood
My dearest Mother, it is to you, to you who are in fact a mother twice over to me, that I now confide the Story of my Soul. The day you asked me to do it, I thought it might be a distraction to me, but afterwards, Jesus made me realize that simple obedience would please Him best. So I am going to begin singing what I shall sing forever, “the mercies of the Lord.” (Ps. 88:1).
Before taking up my pen, I knelt before the statue of Mary, the one which has given us so many proofs that the Queen of Heaven watches over us as a mother. I begged her to guide my hand so that I should write only what would please her; then, opening the Gospels, my eyes fell on these words: “Jesus, going up into a mountain, called unto Him whom He would Himself.” (Mark 3:13).
The mystery of my vocation, of my entire life, and above all, of the special graces Jesus has given me, stood revealed. He does not call those who are worthy, but those He chooses to call. As St. Paul says: “God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy; so then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” (Cf. Rom. 9:15-16).
For a long time I had wondered why God had preferences, why He did not give the same degree of grace to everyone. I was rather surprised that He should pour out such extraordinary graces on great sinners like St. Paul, St. Augustine and so many others, forcing His grace on them, so to speak. I was rather surprised, too, when reading the lives of the Saints, to find Our Lord treating certain privileged souls with the greatest tenderness from the cradle to the grave, removing all obstacles from their upward path to Him, and preserving the radiance of their baptismal robe from the stains of sin. Also, I wondered why so many poor savages die without even hearing Our Lord’s name. Jesus chose to enlighten me on this mystery. He opened the book of nature before me, and I saw that every flower He has created has a beauty of its own, that the splendor of the rose and the lily’s whiteness do not deprive the violet of its scent nor make less ravishing the daisy’s charm. I saw that if every little flower wished to be a rose, Nature would lose her spring adornments, and the fields would be no longer enameled with their varied flowers.
So it is in the world of souls, the living garden of the Lord. It pleases Him to create great Saints, who may be compared with the lilies or the rose; but He has also created little ones, who must be content to be daisies or violets, nestling at His feet to delight His eyes when He should choose to look at them. The happier they are to be as He wills, the more perfect they are.
I saw something further: that Our Lord’s love shines out just as much through a little soul who yields completely to His Grace as it does through the greatest. True love is shown in self-abasement, and if everyone were like the saintly doctors who adorn the Church, it would seem that God had not far enough to stoop when He came to them. But He has, in fact, created the child, who knows nothing and can only make feeble cries, and the poor savage, with only the Natural Law to guide him; and it is to hearts such as these that He stoops. What delights Him is the simplicity of these flowers of the field, and by stooping so low to them, He shows how infinitely great He is. Just as the sun shines equally on the cedar and the little flower, so the Divine Sun shines equally on everyone, great and small. Everything is ordered for their good, just as in nature the seasons are so ordered that the smallest daisy comes to bloom at its appointed time.
I expect you will be wondering, Mother, where all this is supposed to be leading, for so far I have not given you anything that looks much like my life story—but you did tell me to write quite freely whatever came into my head! So you will not find my actual life in these pages so much as my thoughts on the graces Our Lord has given me.
I have reached the stage now where I can afford to look back; in the crucible of trials from within and without, my soul has been refined, and I can raise my head like a flower after a storm and see how the words of the Psalm have been fulfilled in my case: “The Lord is my Shepherd and I shall want nothing. He hath made me to lie in pastures green and pleasant; He hath led me gently beside the waters; He hath led my soul without fatigue . . . Yea, though I should go down into the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou, O Lord, art with me.” (Cf. Ps. 22:1, 4).
Yes, “the Lord hath always been compassionate and gentle with me, slow to punish and full of mercy.” (Cf. Ps. 102:8). I feel really happy just to be able to tell you, Mother, of all the wonderful things He has done for me. Remember, I am writing for you alone the story of the little flower gathered by Jesus, and so I can speak unreservedly, not bothering about the style, nor about the digressions I shall make; a mother’s heart always understands, even when her child can do no more than lisp, so I am quite sure that you, who prepared my heart and offered it to Jesus, will certainly do so.
If a little flower could talk, it seems to me it would say what God has done for it quite simply and without concealment. It would not try to be humble by saying it was unattractive and without scent, that the sun had destroyed its freshness or the wind its stem, when all the time it knew it was quite the opposite.
This flower, in telling her story, is happy to make known all the gifts that Jesus has given her. She knows quite well that He could not have been attracted by anything she had of her own. Purely out of mercy He gave these gifts. It was He who caused her to be born on soil which had been abundantly blessed, where eight radiant lilies already bloomed, where the fragrance of purity was ever about her. In His love, He wished to preserve her from the world’s foul breath, and her petals were scarcely open when He transplanted her to the mountain of Carmel, to Mary’s garden of delight.
This article is taken from a chapter in The Story of a Soul by St. Thérèse of Lisieux which is available from TAN Books.