Stranger God: The Little Way

So for the past few weeks, I’ve been reviewing Richard Beck’s great new book Stranger God. It’s a book about learning to welcome the people we wouldn’t normally associate with in the name of, and for the love of, Jesus.

And the reason I wanted to review this book on here (outside of it being a great book!) is that I’ve seen how well this actually works first hand.

Richard and Jana go to the church I preach at. Almost all the people that Richard mentions in SG I know and have seen these stories first hand. And I know something else too.

By the time this post is published Richard will be an elder at the church I serve. (He’s being ordained Sunday) but when I first got to know him almost 8 years ago, this would’ve been hard to imagine. The way Richard tells it, his faith was dry and brittle. God was more an intellectual pursuit than a vibrant way of life.

But then something started to happen.

Richard started to practice.

We’re Talking About Practice

If Richard’s book has a center, it’s when he introduces us to St. Teresa of Liseaux and the Little Way.

Up until a few years ago, I’d never heard of Teresa, but I’ve heard Richard talk about her a few times, and I’ve seen how powerful her ideas can be in practice.

Teresa was a nun living in a convent with a bunch of other nuns. She was young and eager to change the world. We have some of her prayer journals where to wrote to Jesus(in all caps!)

“I feel within me other vocations. I feel the vocation of the WARRIOR, THE PRIEST, THE APOSTLE, THE DOCTOR, THE MARTYR. . . . I feel the need and the desire of carrying out the most heroic deeds for You.”

She wanted to live a heroic, noble life of a martyr. But that’s kind of hard to do when people aren’t feeding Christians to the lions anymore. It’s especially hard to do when everyone you live with are also devoted Christians. Or at least that’s the way it seemed to Teresa.

But then Teresa began to notice that there were certain nuns who others tended to avoid. These were the people who were annoying or hard to live with. She wrote that, while other nuns remained within the boundaries of religious politeness to these annoying sisters, they would generally try to stay away from them when they could.

As a side note…if you don’t have people that immediately spring to your mind when you read this, you probably haven’t been to church in a while. But Teresa did the opposite of what most of us do when confronted with people we are supposed to love, but don’t really like. She decided that she would try to learn to love and spend time with these nuns.

Here’s how she said it:

This is the conclusion I draw from this: I must seek out in recreation, on free days, the company of Sisters who are the least agreeable to me in order to carry out with regard to those wounded souls the office of the Good Samaritan. A word, an amiable smile, often suffice to make a sad soul bloom.

Beck points out that this was a spiritual habit focused on action not sentiment. Teresa actually decided to open her heart up to these women. And by doing so found that she was learning how to love God better.

She called this The Little Way and while she didn’t live long enough to realize it, God used it in big ways.

She died when she was just 24 years old of Tuberculosis, but just a year after her death, her journal writings were collected and published, originally, as you might imagine to a very limited audience. But not for long. Within a couple of years the Pope was praising her work, and fast-tracked her becoming a saint. Eventually, she became one of only four women in history to be considered a Doctor of the Church.

All because of this very simple, very practical idea that she lived out for Jesus. To love the unloved among her community, with her time, and attention.

A Million Boring Things

Toward the end of the book, Beck talks about a conversation he had years ago with a college student about how to grow spiritually. He told her that becoming like Jesus was really a million boring things-boring things like learning how to wait patiently in line, being patient with your family, being a good friend when you don’t want to be. You know, the kind of stuff that doesn’t feel super spiritual, but over time adds up.

His point is that we all want to have a kind of revolutionary life, but fail to realize how to go about revolutionizing the life we actually have.

So back to Richard (Bro. Richard) becoming an elder Sunday. Over the past few years he’s practiced the Little Way.

I’ve seen it at Highland by the way he and his family sit with Kristi (the disabled woman he talks about in his book) or driving Robert and Judy home after church,  or working through a disagreement with Darell (another church member) or helping Beth get her teeth (you gotta read the book for that one).

For years, I was watching the miracle of the Little Way and did not know that’s what it was called. But I’ve seen it work powerfully in both the lives of the Beck’s and the lives of the people they’ve blessed with their practice.

Because there is something about opening yourself up to the people you want to avoid that changes you. It softens your heart to them. It makes you unable to categorize the world so neatly into “us and them” and…it turns out…it opens you up to the God who comes to us in the form of a Stranger.

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