Even though I’m not Catholic, I’m a devoted follower of St. Therese of Lisieux, so several years ago, I was very eager to read Heather King’s 2011 memoir, Shirt of Flame: A Year with Saint Therese of Lisieux, I’m always trying to get my hands on more St. Therese material, plus I can never resist a good “year-of” memoir.
One passage struck me in particular. In the study of happiness, I’m always fascinated and moved when I see a person choose to react in a way that boosts happiness or love or forgiveness when circumstances made that choice difficult.
In her spiritual memoir Story of a Soul, (which I’ve read several times), St. Therese gives many examples of this kind of choice from her own life—for instance, the moment that she describes as her “complete conversion,” when she acted selflessly with her father by choosing to show a childlike joy in her Christmas presents. In her particular circumstance, that was the loving way to act.
Often, to allow themselves to respond in a different frame of mind, people reframe a situation.
Heather King recounts an interesting example of this shift. She writes, “I’m mortified to admit that I was still miffed because [my mother] never told me as a child (or an adult, for that matter) that I was pretty.”
Then she recounts how St. Therese interpreted the same situation with her own upbringing. St. Therese’s mother died when she was four years old, and her older sisters, particularly her sister Pauline, helped to raise her.
St. Therese writes to Pauline, “You gave a lot of attention, dear Mother [meaning Pauline], not to let me near anything that might tarnish my innocence, especially not to let me hear a single word that might be capable of letting vanity slip into my heart.”
As King points out, St. Therese chose to understand a lack of compliments to be a sign of loving care. That’s not the only interpretation, but that’s the one she chose to have.
This example is a good reminder that often, there’s more than one way to interpret someone’s actions or words. I try to remember this principle in my own life, when I feel angry or hurt or irritated. Is there another way to interpret someone’s words or actions? Often, there is.