My struggle with depression began years ago. It’s an experience I know too well. I read a book recently called the “Catholic Guide to Depression.” I’ve read a lot of self-help books on mental illness, but this book has been the most helpful. I know I need my faith to heal from depression. I can’t carry the weight of the cross alone. A few times throughout the book, the author, Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, mentions how following St. Thérèse and her Little Way can be a transformative way to walk through depression with God. I’ve read about and prayed to St. Thérèse for a while, but I’ve only recently gained a renewed meaning of her Little Way.
Difficult to Describe
Dr. Kheriaty begins the book by putting words to the experience of depression. Ironically, in a chapter describing depression, he also states how difficult it is to describe. This is one reason why people struggle to explain to friends and family what they are experiencing. Mental pain can’t be explained easily – it’s an experience far too complex. The way I see depression is a pit of suffering, of overwhelming sadness, anxiety, and fear. It creates a blurry vision of the world. As depressive thoughts cycle in my head, I lose focus, energy, and motivation. It sometimes affects my sleep, appetite, and makes it difficult to maintain relationships with friends and family. Everything is exhausting and can require a whole lot of effort to get done.
Although associated with sweetness and roses, St. Thérèse went through several sorrowful periods in her life. At an early age she dealt with the death of her mother, scrupulosity and anxiety, and physical illness. However, she abandoned herself completely into God’s hands, accepting her suffering as a way to grow in union with God. It wasn’t grandiose gestures that drew her closer to God. She became a saint because of her simple way of living and the small acts of sacrifice she would do in the confines of a cloistered convent.
St. Thérèse said, “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling looks, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” She lived her Little Way, the idea that we grow in virtue when we practice simplicity and humility in our ordinary lives, through acts of love. Every person, no matter where they are or what they are going through, is given an opportunity to grow in virtue.
St. Thérèse’s Little Way can be implemented by a person struggling with depression. In the midst of depression, I have difficulty finding any motivation to do the smallest things. At its worst, I’m extremely tearful. I feel stuck in my bed. I have to create to-do lists that list the simplest of tasks. Some are routine things like doing laundry, running an errand, reaching out to a friend, or eating an apple even if I have no appetite. Recently, when I begin to have thoughts and emotions telling me there’s no way I can accomplish these small goals, I’ve tried to follow in St. Thérèse path.
The Little Way, similar to cognitive behavioral therapy, begins by challenging the automatic thoughts and then intentionally doing actions in line with the reframed thoughts. I ask God for strength and guidance. This Little Way is rooted in love because I sacrifice the depression’s desires and my own superficial desires, placing trust in God’s desire for me to live His will, which certainly isn’t to give into the sorrow. Although not always successful, practicing the Little Way in my life is surely bringing God’s grace into the tiny, routine tasks of my life.
God sees the amount of courage that’s sometimes necessary to live through depression. He dismisses depression as separate from our nature. Our cross, like Jesus’ cross, is a path to sanctification and true happiness in God. In the moment, we might not understand the reason for our suffering, but like St. Thérèse, we must place total confidence and trust in God’s saving grace.