This life is enough

For Christmas, my boyfriend gave me a book containing translations of the surviving correspondence of St.s Zelie and Louis Martin, parents to St. Therese of Lisieux. I have been reading it for the past few weeks as I settle into the New Year, and I can say with certainty that this book, A Call to Deeper Love, has already proved itself to be enlightening, edifying, and deeply humbling.

The Introduction gives a striking interpretation of the lives of Zelie and Louis, who lived “ordinary lives in extraordinary times”, detailing what is known about their lives from their wedding (celebrated as a private ceremony in their local church by candlelight) to their respective deaths. Dr. Frances Renda provides an account of their characters, what can be gleaned about the kind of people they were from what little accounts they have of them, and makes it clear that their piety and love of the Lord and each other shone in everything. When I read this, I was amazed to see such reverence for this holy couple, and so I excitedly turned to the words of the letters themselves.

What struck me immediately about Zelie Martin (whose words make up the majority of the correspondence) is that she is not afraid to speak her mind. She edifies her brother and encourages him to pray. She speaks frankly about the situations impacting her life and is quick to surrender to God in spite of living through incredible loss and deep physical and mental suffering. I am amazed by her strength. Her husband, Louis, is more quiet so far, but is strong, kind, and self sacrificing, always deeply concerned first for his wife and also for his children.

I have found the letters to be deeply sobering. At first I was struck by their ordinariness, detailing the day to day life of a watchmaker, a lace maker, and their growing family. It was easy to think that their lives must be boring, filled with the cares of the world, how difficult it must be to pray and how much harder it must be to become holy in the way that they did. When I took a look at their simple life I couldn’t help but think, “Would this be enough?” This thought was quickly replaced however, by deep admiration, compassion, and a little bit of fear, as I entered the letters written in arguably the toughest years of their marriage. In the span of four years, the Martins lost four children, suffered from the occupation of the Prussians during the Franco-Prussian War, as well as the death of Zelie’s father and the third child of Zelie’s brother. Page after page, their loss and sorrow was revealed to me, and it broke my heart. Oh yes, this life is enough. It is more than enough.

I feel as though I have been reminded of the reality of life, and it makes me see the way I’ve been dealing with my own suffering differently. When I find hardship, I want to run away. I want to push it away and ignore it. I want to hide myself in escape plans and contingencies and desperately try to find a way out. I don’t want to choose the path of standing in the storm.

But, what if that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do?

I have some situations in my life that are causing me hardship. All of us are. In this life there is uncertainty, pain, and disappointment. This has been guaranteed. And the reality is that there is no running away. There is no escaping. Life is hard, and we must endure it. This is how we are called to be saints.

“I have told you this so that you might have peace in Me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” John 16:33

This life is indeed enough to make us saints. All the little things, all the joys and sufferings, all the ordinariness and the seemingly unimportant moments, this is what will slowly whittle our hearts, molding and shaping us into the saints we are called to be. It’s not flashy. It’s not grand. But it is enough, and it is good.

Friends, I hope the example of Zelie and Louis Martin, a couple of ordinary saints who lived their lives faithfully in all the little ways they were called to be, is encouraging to you. May they inspire you, like they’re inspiring me, to take up your cross and face the hard with grace. And I pray that, through their intercession, we too may find the courage to say, “No more running away.”