Minimalism, simplifying, and small living are popular trends today. But for Catholics, the underlying spiritual realities are truly profound. And, who better to guide us in everything small and simple, but The Little Flower, Saint Therese herself?
Did you know that when the eye sees clutter, the brain shifts into problem-solving mode? Neuroscience has discovered that this shift is accompanied by an increase in adrenaline—creating a sense of urgency and even anxiety! So clearing out the clutter of your desk, bedroom or apartment will help you return to a more peaceful state. The less stuff we have, the less cluttered our environment.
So, first, we need to declutter. And to really effectively declutter, we need to detach from our possessions—a difficult task! Our possessions seem to cast a spell over us: If we aren’t attentive, our possessions can begin to possess us— like the power of the ring in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings that leads Gollum to become a slimy, creeping hoarder who lives in the dark guarding his “Precious.”
Why do things have this ability to cast a spell over us? Why do we not recognize that too many things are like too much food — we don’t need them, and they can make us sick with the sadness of too much? Three of the Gospels record the incident of the rich young man who “went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions” (Mark 10: 17-22). When our hearts are filled with earthly loves, creature comforts and material possessions, we have less room for God. Moreover, as the Gospel passage shows, we will not be happy! St. Therese assures us, “happiness has nothing to do with the material things that surround us; it dwells in the very depths of the soul.”1
3 Tips To Achieve True Happiness From St. Therese
One way of detaching from our material possessions is to be very intentional and thoughtful in the way we use our material resources. Today it is so easy to simply “buy another” if something breaks. Another way is to let go donate clothes or jewelry or shoes that we keep simply because we “might” have an occasion to wear them. We can resist the temptation to daydream about luxuries we wish we had and to create “false needs” based on what others have or what we find on social media.
Detachment from earthly things is a particularly difficult spiritual reality to achieve, as spiritual writers have pointed out over the ages. As soon as you find yourself detached from one thing, you realize there is an even deeper reality to be grasped, like peeling layers of onions.
This brings us to the second lesson from St Therese: poverty of spirit.
“I love to return in spirit to the enchanting places where they lived, wondering where these people are, what became of their houses and gardens where I saw them enjoy life’s luxuries? And I see that all is vanity and vexation of spirit under the sun, that the only good is to love God with all one’s heart and to be poor in spirit here on earth.”
By recognizing the limitations of all the would-be idols—they are all “vanity and vexation”— we can renew our commitment to loving God with our whole hearts. By emptying our hearts from what we think we need to be happy (prestige, security, comfort, control) we can allow our hearts to be filled with his love and peace. When we “declutter” our souls from all our attachments, we can be open to following God’s will. And, in so doing, we simplify our life and increase our sense of peace.
“No, there is no joy comparable to that which the truly poor in spirit experience.”
Finally, our third lesson from St Therese is a positive one: where we emptied ourselves by detaching and being poor in spirit, we now fill ourselves with gratitude. Psychologists have discovered what saints and spiritual writers have always known: being thankful, expressing our gratitude, performing acts of kindness actually increase our sense of well being and happiness. Grateful people are happy people.
Avoid Comparing, Choose Gratitude
A huge temptation is to compare ourselves with our friends, to suffer anxiety about the way we look, the way our homes look, the way our children behave, and to wish our lives were other than they are. We forget that external appearances do not tell the whole story. We think we will only be happy if…if I had a better car, a bigger home, a nicer boss, a boyfriend, a girlfriend, etc.
The antidote is gratitude.
Saint Therese makes an even more compelling case. She explains that gratitude draws down God’s grace upon us!
Being grateful to God is at the heart of St. Therese’s “Little Way.” She mentions gratitude over and over in her Story of a Soul. She explains that Jesus doesn’t demand great actions or mighty deeds from us, but simply “surrender and gratitude.”
In short, three lessons we can learn from St. Therese’s Little Way are detachment from material possessions, poverty of spirit, and gratitude. In so doing, we can alleviate our anxiety, increase our happiness and grow in the grace of God.
The Little Way of Living with Less is a spiritual journey guided by St. Thérèse of Lisieux toward a “less is more” manner of living. It shares one couple’s effort to downsize, declutter, and detach — and the challenge of growing in virtues that is associated with this process. Indeed, this book serves as a practical antidote to the consumerism and commodification of daily home life today.
Through the words and example of the Little Flower, you will find peace, joy, and security as you learn how to overcome disorder — whether physical, mental, or spiritual. St. Thérèse will help form you in single-mindedness to complete the ordinary with extraordinary, selfless love, and you’ll soon find yourself becoming intentional about making God the center of your life and your home.
Best of all, you will discover that “everything is grace” (St. Thérèse) and will begin thanking God for your many blessings and experiencing His miraculous favors with greater mindfulness. Inspired by the Little Way, you will more confidently seek the things above and “choose all” in holiness.
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