A decade of saints and stress points (plus, my first-ever giveaway!)

by Emily McFarlan Miller

This is how I fell in love with the saints.

I was 22 years old, just out of college, my entire life before me, beside me, absolutely crushing me under the weight of every move, like an arrow, if a millimeter off when it leaves the bow, a mile off when it reaches the target.

Enter St. Therese of Lisieux and the blog post I wrote at the time:

St. Theresa of the Child Jesus (1873-1897) was Beliefnet’s Saint of the Day this past Sunday. Also known as Therese of Lisieux (for the French town where she lived cloistered as a Carmelite nun) or the “Little Flower” (for her promise upon her deathbed that she would “let fall from heaven a shower of roses”), St. Theresa is one of the youngest (she died of tuberculosis at 24) and most popular of the canonized saints. Pope John Paul II proclaimed her a Doctor of the Church, and Pope Pius X dubbed her the “greatest saint of modern times.”

And yet, her outside life was uneventful: as a Carmelite, her days were spent in long hours of prayer, hard domestic work, and occasional writing.

“Therese possessed that holy insight that redeems the time, however dull that time may be,” the Beliefnet article says.

I, apparently, do not. Or, at least, I do not yet. God is, at the moment, attempting to help me in this regard (which is why, perhaps for emphasis, He would direct me to a six-day-old Saint of the Day article and to the story of St. Theresa), and I am not particularly enjoying this departure from my otherwise exciting, jet-setting lifestyle. It will be a lesson hard-earned.

The journalism job I assumed (and my professors assured) would be waiting for me post-graduation never materialized. Instead I spent post-graduate Month One painting, moving, repainting, apartment-hunting, painting, moving again, and recovering from the sheer psychological trauma of my parents’ visit. Month Two was spent in the backwoods of Minnesota, working with my non-profit on the White Earth Reservation.  Highlights from Month Three include being disappointed by the lack of job offers coming my way and finally signing on at a temporary staffing agency to pay rent in the meantime. Month Four found me a temporary assignment as the executive assistant to the CFO of Vera Wang, which is what, as we enter Month Five, I remain.

This is not exciting work. Not for me, at least. I’m not breaking news — I’m trying hard not to break the fine Wedgewood china upon which I daily present my boss her lunch. The only things I’m writing are cover sheets for faxes and labels for file folders. I spend my ten-hour days, staring at a cubicle wall, waiting for my boss to ask me to dial the phone for her or Windex her desk. It is dull.

And yet, when a coworker smiles and tells me I’ve breathed new life into the office, I think maybe I belong where I am right now and God has a purpose for me here.

St. Teresa espoused the “Little Way.” She may have been a little girl, and she may have done little things by the world’s standards, but she believed in a big God and trusted He had a plan and a purpose for her life. Recognized as the patron saint of missions, she made her life’s mission one of hidden sacrifice and quiet, redemptive suffering.

“I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifice to all ecstasies,” she wrote.  “To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.”

Six years later, I think I finally have the holy insight to redeem that time, though in retrospect.

For one, I was aiming at the wrong target.

Stress Point

Sarah Francis Martin lists 10 stress points in her book “Stress Point: Thriving through your 20s in a Decade of Drama.” They include:

  • Career
  • Self-image
  • Body image
  • Love and dating
  • Love and dating (Yes, it gets two chapters.)
  • Friends and family
  • Money
  • Stepping out on your own
  • Making a difference
  • Spiritual maturity

I’d set my sights on my career, when, Sarah writes, “Our careers were never meant to be the center of our lives.”

“God planned your career to be a spoke in the wheel of your life, with Him alone as the hub of that wheel. He wants to be not only a reality in your career but the grounding point, the still center to which you come for wisdom, guidance and godly success.”

At the start of my 20s, I felt like I was waiting for my life to begin, confusing “life” with “my first full-time job.” Confusing that job with my identity. And clinging to my vision of what that job would look like, applying and agonizing, with all my might. I was “worried” and “upset” and “distracted by all the preparations that had to be made” to hit that target, to begin the career that was the obvious next step after college graduation. But there are better things. (Sound familiar?)

I had a conversation about music a couple weekends ago with my now-father-in-law. He doesn’t like much of the music popular today, he said, and, to be honest, neither do I. He described it as “a wall of sound.” There aren’t breaks and pauses, he said. I thought that was profound. Life has breaks and pauses, too. Time to let go of one thing so you can grab on to the next, as C.S. Lewis said.

I didn’t do that. I didn’t let go. And so my 20s have been that wall of sound. Only now, when I’m closer to the end of my 20s than to the start, do I see the value in the breaks, do I understand that life has verses and bridges and choruses and breaks to take a breath, and that’s still life. It can’t be all raging guitar solo.

Only now can I rest in the Scripture Sarah includes in her chapter on career; only now do I have the holy insight to see it is true.

“Lord, You have assigned me my portion and my cup; You have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance” (Psalm 16:5-6).

The giveaway!

Are you in your 20s, too? Just rest. God has assigned you your portion and cup. He’s assigned you your career. He’s assigned you your body and loves and friends and family and whatever else it is that stresses you. Just rest, and choose the better thing to be the center of your life. And you don’t have to believe me, someone still figuring out the decade.

Last week, I contributed to my friend and fellow Start Marriage Right writer Renee Johnson Fisher’s blog series on “Pre Engagement Questions.” In August, Renee, a.k.a. the “Devotional Diva,” is launching a series called “I Survived My 20s.” I’m not contributing this time, but I am looking forward to it. You can look for that here.

Meantime, Sarah is just over halfway through an online book study of “Stress Point” on her blog. (Catch up on past weeks here.) This isn’t a book I likely would have picked up for myself (like I said, I’m closing in on 30), but the author graciously sent me a copy to review, and I’m working through it now. The Scripture she points to and relates to those stress points throughout has been a tremendous encouragement, and I love online book studies; I love immersing myself in a topic.

Tell me: What are your points of stress? How are you thriving through them? Comment on this post by 11:59 p.m. Monday, Aug. 6, to win my review copy of the book. (Two things: One, this is my first-ever giveaway, and since I’m still building this blog, I don’t have a lot of commenters and followers yet. This makes the odds supremely good if you enter, you win. And two, you have my apologies in advance for the book wrinkles from carrying it around the past month in my purse. I did, at least, refrain from contributing my own marginalia for you. I generally am not kind to books, although they leave no doubt they are well-loved.)

Also, if you’re inspired by the stories of lives well lived, check out this New York Times story on the Catholic Church’s newest saint, Kateri Tekakwitha. St. Kateri is the first American Indian saint, and I love this quote from a Najavo man at a powwow at her national shrine in Fonda, N.Y.: “She can help us by connecting us together. … We are all saints.”

Linking up with:

Full disclosure:

Photo credit: The Uniconoclast. Sarah Francis Martin. FTC Disclosure by Louis Gray/Jeannine Schafer.