It’s one of the hardest things to do, and in an age of instant gratification such as drive-thru restaurants, same-day deliveries, and free two-day shipping, it’s not something we’re used to, either. But often, in the waiting seasons of life, the Lord teaches us the most important lessons.
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity learned this early. As a devout young teenager in turn-of-the century France, she desired nothing more than to enter the Carmelite monastery just around the corner from her home. But a cloistered convent might as well be on the other side of the world—and to her widowed mother, who only had two daughters, “losing” her daughter this way just wasn’t an option.
Elizabeth was told, simply and severely, “No.”
It broke her heart and was an excruciating trial for such a strong willed and independent young woman. But in the long years of waiting for what she fully believed to be God’s call on her life, she learned something precious: Ultimately, what we must embrace is God’s will, revealed to us through life’s limitations and circumstances. And that He will allow us to live the vocation to holiness, which is our primary vocation, no matter who we are or what our state in life is.
So Elizabeth determined to live as if there was a Carmel in her heart, a place of quiet where she could keep company with Jesus, even in the midst of the world she couldn’t leave. “May my life,” she wrote, “be a continual prayer, a long act of love. May nothing distract me from You, no noise or distractions. I would so love, my Master, to live with You in silence. But what I love above all is to do Your will, and since You want me to be in the world at present, I submit myself with all my heart for love of You. I offer You the cell of my heart to be your little Bethany; come and live there, I love You so much.”
Her mother finally granted her permission to enter the convent when she turned 21, and Elizabeth joyfully disappeared behind the walls of Carmel—but she never forgot her friends and family outside. She wrote long letters encouraging them to live what she had discovered long before Vatican II made it universally known: Holiness is for everyone, and is possible in our obedience to God’s will as it presents itself to us in the everyday circumstances of life. And deep, Contemplative prayer is not only for Carmelites but is, in fact, a necessary flowering of the graces of our Baptism.
Before she died at the age of 26 from Addison’s disease—a slow, painful death in which she was very much united to Christ crucified—she wrote a retreat for her sister to pray with after she died. Her younger sister Guite at the time was a busy mother at home with two young children. This retreat, called Heaven in Faith, is a masterpiece of the spiritual life and it was the first thing of Elizabeth’s I read, while I was a mom with young children myself.
Here, I thought, is a woman who understands me, who perfectly bridges the Carmel and the kitchen, the cloister and the carpool.
I’ve loved her ever since.
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, help us to keep a sacred silence within us even when everything around us feels like chaos. Help us to sanctify the seasons of waiting and suffering which are parts of life specifically designed to lead us closer to the Trinity you now see now, no longer just in faith, but face to face.
Claire Dwyer lives in Arizona with her husband and six children who range in age from 23 to 9. She works for the Avila Foundation and writes and speaks on topics such as authentic femininity, discernment of one’s personal vocation, living fully the present moment.
At EventheSparrow.com she writes on everything from saints to the spiritual life to the sacramentality of the everyday, and earlier this year published her first book, This Present Paradise: A Spiritual Journey with St. Elizabeth of the Trinity.
Her passion is to help fellow followers of Christ see the beauty and possibility of their interior lives and own their unrepeatable place in the Church
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