I recently had a chance to interview Connie Rossini, author of Five Lessons from the Carmelite Saints that will Change Your Life and Trusting God with St. Therese. She lived for many years as a secular member of the Discalced Carmelites, and is now a homeschooling mom, so she brings a lot of spiritual and practical experience to bear. During the interview, we discussed her book but also how we can learn from the saints, face failures and delays in a Godly way, and commit ourselves to trusting in Jesus Christ, even in the face of doubt.
I first asked why she chose to write about St. Therese. Why not another Carmelite saint?
“It just happened that in my life, I was really at a point where I was stuck spiritually for a long time, and I am a big fan of Fr. Jacque Phillipe and his books on spirituality. I had asked my husband to buy his latest book at the time (which) was The Way of Trust and Love… a complilation of retreats he gave on St. Therese… (A)bout half-way through the book, I was blown away because, being written originally in French, Fr. Phillipe was familiar with all these writings of St. Therese that I wasn’t familiar (with)… I was really struck by her trust in God, and I realized that the reason that I was stuck in my spiritual life was that I didn’t trust God. That’s what got me started on the whole ‘exploring trust’. I began to explore it on my blog, and then I decided this is worthy of a book.”
What will readers get from her book? The first and most direct answer is that not all of St. Therese’s work has been translated. There’s a passage in this book that hasn’t appeared before in English. Beyond that, there is more to Trusting God with St. Therese than stories from the saint’s life. There is application to our lives. She explains:
“I find a memory from my own life where I… being challenged in a similar way to Therese. For example, we have a story of when she wanted to enter the Carmelite order when she was 14 years old… I didn’t get married until I was 33 years old. I also was somebody that knew my vocation–knew what God was calling me to–but He made me wait. So I talk about that… and relate that to St. Therese’s experience. And I think through that the reader comes to see that Therese wasn’t that different from you and me. …I was astounded by how many connections there really were, how many problems Therese faced that were very similar to problems that I faced and that I think my readers face as well.”
Therese has something to say about our lives, even if we’re not cloistered nuns and she wasn’t in our particular role. She shared more experiences with us than we might imagine. Connie gives a few more examples:
“…I’m a homeschool mom, and St. Therese was assistant novice mistress. So she, like me, had students under her that she was trying to form spiritually, and I can learn from the way she taught her novices how I might be able to bring a deeper spirituality to my children. She had to deal with family tragedies, which, of course, all of us are going to experience at some point in our life. Her mother died when she was only four years old. …I think that readers will be very surprised at all the ways that Therese really is a lot like them.”
Throughout the book, Connie makes connections between our lives and St. Therese’s life by sharing her own connections — her own struggles and doubts. I asked her about an experience just after the birth of her first son:
“That was one of the hardest experiences of my life. I had to go to work when I had a nine-week-old baby, and I have never ever considered being a working mom, and I didn’t know how long that was going to last. So it was very difficult for me to get up in the morning and go to work, even though I was leaving our son with my husband…I felt like I had totally lost control of bringing up my infant. …(M)editating on the passage where Jesus says ‘my yoke is easy and my burden is light’, I realized that the burden I was carrying was not God’s burden. I was carrying my own burden because… I had my own plans. I had my own ideas of how married life and parenting was supposed to look… (and) at least as far as God’s permissive will, that was not what I was supposed to do. Being able to turn that over to Him and to say ‘Lord, if this is Your will I’m going to accept it’… The difference was incredible and it mostly had to do not with my circumstances but with my heart. Am I willing to trust that God’s plan is better than mine… even if things don’t go the way that I think they should?”
I asked her more about this. If God’s plan isn’t your plan, that doesn’t mean what you wanted isn’t good; it may simply not be the best thing for you, or for you right now.
“I think when I was younger, and even up ’til real recently, I tended to see that whatever God’s plan for me was, I thought that was what everybody should do. But God’s plan is really very individual. Each one of us is different: we have different talents, we have different family situations, and God, as He is a parent too, He parents each of us individually…. I need to be trusting enough in His plan to realize that what is right for me might not work in somebody else’s situation, or the ideal might not work for me. And just to have that freedom to accept whatever God’s will is instead of imposing my will and my way of seeing things on myself and on other people.”
During the interview, as in the book, Connie passes on not just the stories but tips on how to trust more deeply, as St. Therese did. Neither of them received some special grace to just not doubt anymore. St. Therese had to work on it daily, just as we all do.
“…I really had a lot of doubts against faith for a decade probably. Not all the time, not constant, but repeated. And since really focusing on trust… I still do have temptations to doubt. I try to say ‘Jesus, I trust in you’. To say those words even if I don’t feel them all the time. And I do a lot of visualizing.. just picturing myself kneeling at Jesus’ feet, those kinds of things are really helpful to me to really surrender myself to God and to make a commitment to believe no matter what. To believe even in the face of my doubts, rather than getting all bent out of shape about (them).”
There is more to learn in the full interview, and from the book. You can download a sample chapter from Trusting God with St. Therese and the full version of Five Lessons from the Carmelite Saints that will Change Your Life from ContemplativeHomeschool.com. And you can watch our full interview at here (or below).
Copyright 2014, Joe Wetterling