St. Thérèse, St. John Paul II, and Becoming What You Are

“How does she do it all?”

It’s a phrase I have found myself saying many times, when other women amaze me by sewing their children’s clothes (I can barely stitch a button on), growing their own produce (I can’t seem to keep a plant alive), and doing a host of other things at which I fumble ineptly. In awe, I marvel at these women: How do they do it all?

I know I am not the only one who says this, because I hear it fairly regularly from others, too. It’s a phrase born of admiration, but it is also sometimes tangled up with a feeling of inferiority. Often, the thought that follows is: I could never accomplish what she does.

Sometimes, fear plays a part: That mom of ten looks more together than I feel with four. How will I be able to match that standard, if God gives me more children? I can barely keep my head above water as it is.

The scale that moms often use to measure their own mothering is, sadly, an unbalanced one. It is the scale of comparison, and it adds enormous weight to shoulders of so many tired mothers. We look at other moms and see their accomplishments, and we look in the mirror and see our failures. The scale tips in generous favor of the moms who are not living in our homes, stepping through our messes, fighting our battles.

Of course, mothers are not the only people who compare themselves with those around them. Fathers, young adults, grandparents, teenagers, and countless people in between have a tendency to wonder how they stack up to their peers. Is there a remedy for the feeling of inadequacy that such comparisons create?

Different People, Different Gifts

Recognizing the goodness in others helps us stay humble, and can inspire us to better ourselves; yet sometimes it can be a source of discouragement when it seems like everyone else is doing better than we are. When we compare ourselves with others and find we’re falling short, it helps to remember that God does not measure as we do. He knows that not everyone has the same gifts.

As Saint Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.”

In the same way, I can ask myself: Do all moms excel at sewing? Are all fabulous cooks? Are all popular bloggers, speakers, successful businesswomen, teachers, scholars, award-winning poets, sought-after doctors? Do all have picture-perfect homes? Are all obvious candidates for future canonization? God has given different gifts to different people, and none of us can expect to have them all, though we can “earnestly desire,” as St. Paul says, the ones that would make us holier.

Saint Thérèse: Offer to God the Good Works of Others

In the book My Sister, Saint Thérèse, by Sister Genèvieve of the Holy Face (Thérèse’s sister, Céline), the author tells of a time when she compared herself with Thérèse.

“I told her I was full of holy envy whenever I considered the special talents God had given her and which she was using to such great advantage to win other souls to him,” Sister Genèvieve writes.

Thérèse (who regarded everyone else as more virtuous than herself) replied, “When faced by our limitations, we must have recourse to the practice of offering to God the good works of others. That is the advantage of the Communion of Saints. Let us never grieve over our powerlessness but simply apply ourselves to the science of love.”

The saints in heaven, Thérèse said, enjoy the happiness and merit of each individual saint as the happiness and merit of all, and we on earth can do the same. We can rejoice in the good that others do, and in the talents they have that we lack, because we are all in this together as one Body.

Some people are born organizers; others have to work hard to remember where they put their keys. Some moms are wonderful seamstresses; others ruin clothes every time they pick up a needle. Some moms are gourmet cooks; others struggle to put an edible meal together. Some have the grace of extraordinary patience, while others have to work hard to control their tempers. Our shortcomings keep us humble, and help us depend upon one another for help. The gifts and talents of another person do not cast shadows upon us—rather, they are strengths for all of us as members of the Body of Christ.

In fact, even in our weakness, we can help the Body, for as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12, “The parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable.” (I need only to think of St. Joseph—who had to live as the only sinner in the family with two people who never sinned—to remember that imperfect people have a big place in God’s heart.)

St. John Paul II: Become What You Are

“Families, become what you are,” Saint John Paul II writes in Familiaris Consortio. He does not say, “become what they are” or “become what others are.”

He says, “become what you are.”

“All members of the family, each according to his or her own gift,” he writes, “have the grace and responsibility of building, day by day, the communion of persons, making the family ‘a school of deeper humanity’: this happens where there is care and love for the little ones, the sick, the aged; where there is mutual service every day; when there is a sharing of goods, of joys and of sorrows.”

Each according to his or her own gift, the Holy Father says, is the way in which we are called to live our vocation, both in the domestic family and in the Church family. All that we do to serve others with love in the home, in the Church, and in the world, points to the love of our Creator. What we are is an image of Him.

Just as God did not make all the saints the same—they are, to borrow an analogy from St. Thérèse, as unique as so many beautiful flowers—neither did He create all people to follow the exact same path to Him. Even though it may seem, at times, as if a particularly gifted person “does it all,” the truth is that no one person “does it all” except Jesus. The rest of us are called to reflect Him in the unique way we have been given: to become, as St. John Paul II reminds us, what we are—and to rejoice, as St. Thérèse tells us, in what others are.

Maura Roan McKeegan

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Maura Roan McKeegan lives in Steubenville, Ohio, with her husband, Shaun, and their four children. She is the author of the children’s picture books Into the Sea, Out of the Tomb: Jonah and Jesus (Emmaus Road Publishing, 2016), and The End of the Fiery Sword: Adam & Eve and Jesus & Mary (Emmaus Road Publishing, 2014), which are the first two books in a series introducing children to biblical typology. Her articles have appeared in publications such as Catholic Digest, Crisis, Guideposts, Franciscan Way, Lay Witness, and My Daily Visitor.

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