Each morning, I read a few words from St. Francis de Sales. Mostly I turn to his letters of spiritual direction. There’s something in them that makes me feel like the gentle saint is talking to me, Jeanne, sitting in my reading chair here in my home in Virginia in 2018 rather than to one of the people he mentored.
Today’s letter was written in Sales, April 15-18, 1605. It was addressed to Rose Bourgeois. Rose entered the convent at her father’s command at a young age and was elected abbess for life. She suffered a lot during her life because of a ‘diseased leg’ that never healed. The doctors of the time tried to treat it in 1604. Unlucky Rose. No sterilization, no pain killers. Can you imagine? I can’t. The poor woman.
Anyway…here’s Rose, in the convent of Puis d’Orbe, feeling sad. She feels like she’s got nothing to offer to God and that she can’t really do all that much. She writes as such to Francis, and his response is one of my favorite letters. In it, he talks about why all of us – not just Rose – are so troubled when we can’t do much.
Here are Francis’ own words, quoted from page 119 of Letters of Spiritual Direction:
Why does anyone who has God for the object of his intentions and who is doing the best he can, let himself be disturbed? …No, no, God is not so frightening to those He loves. He is content with little because He knows very well that we don’t have much.
When I was in preschool, I loved nothing more than picking flowers and bringing them inside to my mother. Of course, sometimes those flowers were weeds. Dandelions, mostly. But I’d pick a big bouquet of those pretty yellow dandelions or pansies from my neighbor’s garden, with his permission, and I’d clutch them in a grubby little first. We had a small, squat green vase that fit the offering perfectly. My mother would put it on the windowsill in the kitchen for a day and every time I’d walk by the vase full of dandelions or pansies I would feel happy, because I had given my mother a gift.
When I was in second grade, my father celebrated his 50th birthday. I remember pulling out my Fred Flintstone suncatcher kit and carefully, oh so carefully, placing the little crystal beads into the outline of Fred. One of my sisters helped me bake it and I threaded a piece of yarn through the holder. I presented it to my dad, who didn’t quite understand why Fred Flintstone was so important for me to give him for his birthday.
“Because he’s the father, you see,” I said, as if that explained everything.
And I think it does. All children give these little tokens of affection – rocks, feathers, shells, flowers. We find them beautiful and in an impulse borne right from a pure heart we offer them to the one we love most in the world – our mother and father.
God is our loving father, and if we truly believe He is our gentle, caring, loving Father, we give him the gifts that we can, from the heart. We offer him what we have. As adults, however, we value the wrong things. We value big sacrifices that are beyond our power to give Him. We see the great saints of history and want to give Him something big. We think that will impress Him because something big would impress us, right?
Meanwhile, God wants our weeds.
I think St. Francis de Sales is trying to tell Rose that her diseased leg is her version of weeds. It’s what she has to give to God; she can’t go out into the town and nurse the poor, she may not be able to kneel in prayer as long as the other nuns, but God doesn’t care about the grandness of the gesture.
If He is our loving Father, we are his children, and like little children, we come bearing weeds.
And He puts them in a little green vase on the windowsill and smiles.
At this time, the disciplines came to Jesus and said, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven?”
2 So he called a little child to him whom he set among them. 3 Then he said, “In truth, I tell you, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 18: 1-3