Extraordinary Women: St. Theresa of Avila

St. Theresa of Avila famously said, “From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us!” and “A sad nun is a bad nun!” Like Pope Francis today, she knew that love and joy are are how we are called to be Jesus in the world, and that a smile is the face of that joy. I look to St. Theresa of Avila as a friend and a mentor, someone whose foibles mirror mine, who is an example of how to handle our earthly adversities with grace and humor.

Not one of those achingly pious saints, who from their earliest years devoted their life to God without reservation, Theresa entered the convent as a teenager mainly because her father couldn’t handle her willful behavior, yet she became a Doctor of the Church. She went years without a prayer life, but ultimately formed such a natural relationship with God that she is an example of prayer as an honest, even bold, conversation with Jesus.

So she’s the friend who can relate to my “three-steps-forward-two-steps-back” faith journey, who can guide me when I start making a mental grocery list during prayer time. And she shows me it’s okay to crack a joke now and then, even with God.

St. Theresa didn’t take herself or this world too seriously, brushing off the little hardships of life with a sense of humor. One day, Theresa was riding a donkey, visiting some of the monasteries she founded. It had been raining, and the donkey lost it’s footing in the soft earth. Theresa fell to the ground, covered with mud. Instead of complaining or cursing, she looked to the sky and quipped, “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you don’t have many!”

Theresa had a connection to God that enabled her to joke with Him, just as if it were a friend who had accidentally knocked her in the mud. She didn’t get angry with the man leading the donkey or worry about where she’d find a dry cleaner who was good with habits this far out in the country. Theresa just laughed, an attitude which I’m sure brought joy and relief to her traveling partners.  She was grounded (literally!) in the knowledge that “In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth will seem to be no more than one night in an inconvenient hotel.”

So when I “fall in the mud”—when the dog shreds my favorite shoes, when my son gets a ticket that just “isn’t his fault” or when the air conditioner gives out in the dead of August—I pray my friend St. Theresa of Avila will remind me to brush off my irritation and put my focus on God.  And to do it with a laugh.

Susan is the mother emeritus of three grown sons and is an avid bridge player, knitter and, like Theresa, has been known to get in trouble with a joke now and then. She blogs with her best friend Anne, at yallneedjesusblog.com.

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