My inexplicable yet inexhaustible fascination with St. Thérèse of Lisieux continues unabated, so last night I was reading My Sister, St. Thérèse, by Thérèse’s older sister Celine, a/k/a Sister Geneviève of the Holy Face.
Some background: in 1888, age 16, Thérèse entered an enclosed convent; there she joined twenty-some other nuns—three of whom were her biological sisters. She died from tuberculosis at age 24.
Despite the circumstances of her life—quite unlike the circumstances of most people, obviously—I find St. Thérèse’s work enthralling on the subject of happiness.
For example, I just re-read her discussion of how she handled the frustration of being interrupted.
People who work in an office, or who have small children, or who even walk outside their own homes, are familiar with this common, maddening irritation.
It’s so hard for me to maintain patience and good-humor when I’m interrupted while reading or working, especially in a rare moment when I’m managing to be productive. How do I react?…well, “snarling” is probably the most accurate single word to describe my response.
Thérèse suffered from interruptions, too. In Story of a Soul, she describes how, as she was trying to write her spiritual memoir, and weak from tuberculosis, the other nuns would constantly interrupt her with conversation. And they would do this under the impression that their talk was a pleasant diversion for her!
To keep from being irritated, she explains—and this is the phrase from St. Thérèse that I think about most often—“For the love of God and my Sisters (so charitable toward me) I take care to appear happy and especially to be so.”
So how to be happy while being interrupted?
I’m trying to be more mindful of my circumstances, so I don’t have unrealistic expectations. It’s just not possible for me to concentrate on the newspaper while the Big Girl and the Little Girl are eating breakfast—so I shouldn’t be annoyed when I can’t manage it.
I’m also making more of an effort to be pleasant and receptive when I am interrupted. So often, it seems like when the Big Man wants to talk, I want to read, and when I want to talk, he wants to read.
Marriage studies show that the more you respond to your spouse’s bids for attention, the stronger your marriage will be. To be attentive and playful is best; to be preoccupied, critical, or sarcastic is hurtful. But one person’s “You’re preoccupied” is another person’s “You keep interrupting me.”
But murmuring “Mm, hmmm, mm, hmmm…” with my eyes glued to the page isn’t a way to foster intimacy and affection. My resolution is to “Put down my book—cheerfully.”
Asha Dornfest of the terrific site Parent Hacks sent me a link to a fascinating post by Mark McGuinness on “Five reasons why enthusiasm is better than confidence.” He absolutely convinced me.
As part of my “Try Hypnosis” month, I keep sticky notes emblazoned with key words posted around my apartment; I just changed the note in my office from “Confident and creative” to “Enthusiastic and creative.” This shift in vocabulary is a good example of how re-framing your thinking can make a big difference in your frame of mind.