Thérèse, Josephine, Jane, and Me
The first time a therapist used the word trauma to describe my suffering I was stunned. I had just made peace with even going to therapy! I didn’t ask for this, it couldn’t have been that bad, maybe this was me exaggerating and my therapist was wrong. The more I read about trauma though, the more it made sense of my current struggles. But then I had even more questions! What does this mean for my life? Could I continue in my current work as a missionary? Is spending all this time and energy focused on myself in therapy even compatible with the Christian life? It had been my goal to become a saint, was that even possible?
This mini-crisis of sorts really shook me. It seemed that the world of therapy and healing and the world of faith were so separate.
There were no quick and easy answers. Lots of hard therapy sessions, lots of reading books on psychology, lots of holy hours spent crying. Slowly though, I found a place of peace and ways to connect the journey of healing and the journey of holiness. So much of this has been through friendships with saints and the lessons I’ve learned from their lives.
One of the incredible blessings of my childhood, was the large bookshelf full of saint stories in our home. I read the stories endlessly and never doubted then that I was meant to be a saint to (as all of us are)! In this struggle though, I got to know these women in new ways, with each of them sharing something from their own lives that I could relate to.
Josephine Bakhita. I remember first being introduced to St. Josephine in a picture book as a child, shortly after she was canonized. Her story contains so much horror - that was all I remembered. Re-encountering her as an adult beginning to understand my own trauma, her story took on a new light. I really struggle with large gaps in memory, it’s hard to not know pieces of my own story. Captured and sold into slavery as a child, this young girl forgot her own name! I wonder how much that pain of forgetting her family and early years must have been felt throughout the rest of her life! Even more powerful though, is her example of forgiveness. In the last stage of her life, as a religious sister, Josephine was asked how she would respond if she met her kidnappers. Her response was that she would kiss their hands because she now knew Christ. This response of forgiveness for those who harmed her and an embracing of God who works even the worst horrors for good is incredible! Josephine has been a great support to me as I work towards forgiveness and strive to see God’s goodness.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux. This saint is one I have always known and so often misunderstood. One of the greatest ways I’ve gotten to know her is through reading a book, I Believe in Love, all about the immense confidence and trust of her little way. This book was a rock for me as I questioned how I could be a saint with my weaknesses and mental illness. Of course, God will meet me there in my poverty, just as He met St. Thérèse. Later, I read more of her early life and the losses she had experienced. These events shaped St. Thérèse’s life greatly, leading to anxiety and then from that anxiety to her immense trust in God. My doubts being a missionary and being called to sanctity were dissolved, God would make up whatever I lacked.
St. Jane Frances de Chantal. This is the saint I’ve gotten to know most recently; I wish I had known her sooner! Her husband died young, and she struggled with depression for the rest of her life. It resonates so much, even with years of therapy and medication, my depression has stuck around. It isn’t hopeless, but there is a learning to live with this cross, however long it remains. Jane lived with a similar cross, guided mostly by St. Francis de Sales, in how to live a life of holiness and draw close to Christ even with her depression.
Are you living with mental illness or any other chronic struggle? Who are your saint friends? Do you have companions in heaven cheering you on in your own struggles? If not, I highly recommend taking time to find some saints whose lives resonate with your own, especially if you struggle with mental illness or any other ongoing cross. Find those who understand you and can cheer you on until you join them!