The rain was coming down in torrential sheets and the sky was an ominous gray. Not exactly an ideal day for my Father and I to be trekking on an Ohio farm to prepare his tree stand for whitetail season next Fall! The weather had been pristine the day before when we were driving out to Ohio and would be just as beautiful on the day we drove home. Our one day to be outdoors called for an all-day, driving rain and 25 mile an hour winds.
Dad flippped his F-150 into four-wheel drive as we turned off the main road (one of gravel and dirt) onto a smaller road (one of mud, mud, and you guessed it, more mud!). The truck fishtailed several times during the short ride and both of us wondered one thing; will the road be passable again when it is time to drive out of here? Dad finally brought the truck to a stop in a small field surrounded by forest on three sides.
After putting on our raincoats and collecting our saws and other tools, we traveled off down a road to where Dad would place his tree stand. He was walking several yards in front of me as we began descending down a hill. I was watching where he stepped so I could see the places where it was safe to tread. What I learned instead was the exact opposite – where not to tread!
“Ah, man!” I heard him exclaim as his feet slid out from under him. He sort of slid and flipped at the same time.
“Dad, are you OK?”
“Yeah, but my jeans are wet and covered in mud!” He was able to get up on his own.
He paused for a minute to gain his composure before continuing even more gingerly down the hill. Not 45 seconds later I heard another groan and this time the action seemed to unfold in slow-motion. Dad started to stumble and twist and it seemed for a fraction of a second that he would gain his balance. Not so lucky! I saw a sort of quizzical look on his face as he lost his balance and careened backward into the brush.
“This is ridiculous! I’m completely soaked and we haven’t been walking for 5 minutes!”
Once again he got to his feet under his own power before I could reach him. Luckily he had not sustained any injuries in either fall and we were able to prepare his tree stand for the next hour in the harsh conditions before returning to the truck. The F-150 was equal to the task of getting us safely out to the main road. We enjoyed the beauty of the 2,000 acre farm from the comfort of the truck for the next hour and a half as I smoked a cigar and we laughed about our adventure in the woods.
This humorous incident helped me realize the importance of having someone blaze a safe trail so that those who follow know where the pitfalls lie. I knew where not to step when I saw Dad go down like a ton of bricks. In a like manner, St. Therese illuminates a straight and safe path to Jesus via the Little Way. She not only helps souls avoid the huge pitfalls like habitual, serious sin, but also patterns and attitudes that are detrimental to the spiritual life such as discouragement, despair, fear, and an over-emphasis on God’s justice.
Therese described how she wanted to find a way to Jesus that did not entail having to travel on a dangerous road – a road that is so easy to slip on! She related that, “I want to seek out a means of going to heaven by a little way, a way that is very straight, very short, and totally new. We are living now in an age of inventions, and we no longer have to take the trouble of climbing stairs, for, in the homes of the rich, an elevator has replaced these very successfully. I wanted to find an elevator which would raise me to Jesus, for I am too small to climb the rough stairway of perfection. I searched, then, in the Scriptures for some sign of this elevator, the object of my desires, and I read these words coming from the mouth of Eternal Wisdom: ‘Whoever is a LITTLE ONE, let him come to me.” And so I succeeded. I felt that I had found what I was looking for. But wanting to know, O my God, what you would do to the very little one who answered Your call, I continued my search and this is what I discovered: ‘As one whom a mother caresses, so I will comfort you; you shall be carried at the breasts, and upon the knees they shall caress you.’ Ah! never did words more tender and more melodious come to give joy to my soul. The elevator which must raise me to heaven is Your arms, O Jesus! And for this I had no need to grow up, but rather I had to remain little and become this more and more.” (Story of A Soul, p. 207-208).
St. Therese shows us that the arms of Jesus and childlike trust in his guidance and provision will not only keep us on the correct path, but in the arms of Jesus we will not be susceptible to the same pitfalls as those treading along the path trying to love and serve God with their own strength. “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother’s breast; like a child that is quieted is my soul”. (Psalm 131: 1-2)
It was too bad that Dad had to fall twice and wallow in the mud to illustrate this lesson! I am grateful to him for that. And yes, I was there, and can verify that Dad does make a sound when he falls in the woods!