By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published February 9, 2017
You can hardly walk into the grocery store these days without being bombarded by boxes of chocolates, clusters of flowers and oversized teddy bears.
Yes, Valentine’s Day is approaching—and despite the frilly cards proclaiming undying love, many couples will attest that relationships aren’t always a bed of roses. In fact, they may contain the occasional thorn.
Fortunately, though, Catholics have a saint they can consult about love—Therese of Lisieux, known as The Little Flower.
She entered the convent at 15 and died nine years later—but in those short years, Therese wrote enough about love to change the world forever.
Of course, some people might question her real-world knowledge, since she lived in a cloistered community—where everything surely was smooth and lovely.
After all, what troubles could beset a household of sisters, humming hymns while they scrubbed floors and peeled potatoes?
In truth, though, the ladies were all quite human—with characteristics that sometimes could be annoying.
One elderly nun, for example, complained loudly when Therese tried to help her along the corridor.
Another had the maddening habit of making sounds with her false teeth—during times of silent prayer in the chapel.
A website devoted to The Little Flower puts it this way: “The clacking sound really got to Therese. It ground into her brain. … Therese was pouring sweat in frustration. She tried to shut her ears, but was unsuccessful. Then, as an example of her ‘little way,’ she made a concert out of the clacking and offered it as a prayer to Jesus.”
Her “little way” was based on recognizing that every person is created by God and loved by him forever.
This realization helped her do small, loving actions each day—smiling instead of gritting her teeth, offering encouragement when someone was downcast, and assisting others when her own chores were done.
I believe that the secrets of her “little way” can be applied to marriage—and why not start on Valentine’s Day?
First, you can devote yourself to bestowing small acts of kindness on your sweetheart, who may be far from perfect—but is still dearly loved by God.
And you can redirect the energy you might expend in criticizing someone into cherishing them.
For example, you can extend a sympathetic ear to Mrs. Wife or Mr. Husband by turning off the cell phone, silencing the TV—and giving your spouse undivided attention.
Whenever I left the house for any reason—shopping, lunching with friends, doctors’ appointments—the first thing my late husband asked as I walked in the door was, “How’d it go, hon?” That simple question meant the world to me.
Making someone a cup of tea, posting a love note on their mirror, giving a spontaneous hug—these are all step stones on the path to happiness.
Second, couples can practice the little way by discovering special affirmations—which aren’t limited to “I love you.”
In my case, I realized, over time, that my husband was thrilled to hear “I’m proud of you,” maybe because he’d rarely received this compliment as a child.
So, when he completed a painting or wrote a newsletter, I expressed my love—with all sincerity—with these words.
There’s a song that’s popular right now, “H.O.L.Y.,” and the lyrics include, “You’re an angel,” which I’m guessing would be an encouraging affirmation for many of us. And another one we all love to hear is, “I’m praying for you.”
A third facet of the little way is the “gratitude attitude”—thanking your sweetheart for everyday favors.
For example, I cleaned the bathroom weekly for many years but figured Jef didn’t notice. Then one day, he happily said, “Thank you”—and started expressing daily gratitude for other “invisible” tasks of housekeeping.
I took his cue and began thanking him when he got the car repaired, did yard work or handled the taxes.
The more we expressed gratefulness, the more our love deepened, because no one wants to feel unappreciated.
On Valentine’s Day, chocolates and flowers and teddy bears are wonderful expressions of love—but don’t forget small acts of kindness that, over time, can create a beautiful relationship, a happy home—and a little path to heaven.
Artwork (“At the Sign of the Ivy Bush,” oil painting) by Jef Murray. Lorraine’s latest comical mystery is “Death Dons a Mask,” the third in her Francesco Bibbo series. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.