“I don’t want to go to school…I hate it there.” Poor Lily had been crying again. We’d had this conversation so many times. But this time, I was inspired to pray to St. Therese, friend of the friendless, for intercession.
by Becky Arganbright
I had just settled down for the night, ready to have some well earned alone time when my 12-year-old daughter came shuffling out of her bedroom.
“Can I have a hug?” she asked.
Any other time I would have sent Lily straight back to bed, but Lily doesn’t break the no-coming out-of-bed rule very often, and I could see she had been crying. So I shut my laptop and patted the seat next to me.
“What’s wrong?” I asked her. The tears came then.
“I don’t want to go to school tomorrow. I hate it there. It’s the same thing every day. My friends ignore me. They won’t even talk to me, and when they do it’s with one word answers. They talk to each other but not me. I just follow them around, and they forget I’m there half the time. Can I just stay home tomorrow? I don’t want to go to school, it’s so lonely!” She ended with a sob.
I sighed as I patted her back. We had had this talk many times throughout the years, and I was coming to hate it. I liked that Lily felt she could talk to me, and I wanted her to continue to be open. But it was hard on the heart. Day after day, it was always the same thing. Lily’s friends ignoring her, shutting her out, making plans in front of her and leaving her out. We even switched schools, hoping that a fresh start with a new group of kids might help. And it had for while … until it didn’t.
It did not help that Lily could burst into tears in a blink of an eye. Part of her problem with friends was that she was far too sensitive, even the slightest word of reproof or correction would cause Lily’s eyes to fill up with tears. She told me stories of how she would cry at school over a friend accidentally spilling her Jello at lunch, a teacher reminding her of a class rule, or small humiliation like dropping her book and making a loud noise. This was a big part of the problem of not fitting in at school, and though Lily tried hard to hold back the tears, she said that “they would squeeze through anyway.”
Tearful St. Therese
Lily’s plight at school reminded me very much of St. Therese, so I used her as an example of someone who struggled with the same weaknesses as Lily’s, even crying in school.
“I grasped easily the meaning of things I was learning, but I had trouble learning things word for word. If I lost my place accidentally by forgetting one single word, my sadness was shown by the bitter tears I shed, which Father Domin didn’t know how to stop. He was often pleased with me but not when I was crying.”St. Therese in “Story of a Soul”
At first, Lily was very surprised to hear that this saint, who always has a smile on her face in pictures, had struggled so much that she claimed that the five years at school were the saddest years in her life!
“My heart, sensitive and affectionate as it was, would have easily surrendered had it found a heart capable of understanding it. How can I thank Jesus for making me find only bitterness in earth’s friendships? With a heart such as mine, I would have allowed myself to be taken and my wings to be clipped, and then how would I have been able to fly and be at rest?”St. Therese
Besides being overly sensitive, St. Therese also struggle with fitting in. She experienced a great loneliness with her incapability of making friends.
“Sometimes I felt alone, very much alone. No one paid any attention to me, and I would go up to the choir of the chapel and remain before the Blessed Sacrament until the moment when papa came to get me. This was my only consolation, for was not Jesus my only friend?”St. Therese
At one time, St. Therese did have a friend to her great delight. But this too ended in disappointment, as the girl seemed to turn her back on Therese completely, after having returned from a visit with her family.
“During her absence, I had thought about her, treasuring a little ring she had given me. When I saw my friend again my joy was great, but all I received from her was a cold glance. I felt this and did not beg for an affection that was refused, but I continued to love and pray for my friend, and I still love her even today.”St. Therese
The little stories helped to a point, at least in some consolation that even St. Therese yearned for friends but was unable to have any. We usually ended our talks with a prayer to St. Therese for help.
But still Lily came home looking sad and she would shut herself away in her room. Things were not getting better and the constant exclusion of her friends was taking a toll. Other than planning get-togethers with friends and joining clubs, I didn’t know what else to do for her. And even these things didn’t seem to help.
Prayers, Patience and Trust
When St. Therese’s Oct. 1 feast day rolled around, I suddenly felt inspired to pray to her again for help in this matter. Lily and I had started a novena to St. Therese but had forgotten to continue it. We didn’t start another one, mainly because I was worried that the answer Lily and I were praying for wouldn’t be answered in the way we were hoping, and I didn’t want Lily (or myself) to be disappointed. I wasn’t sure how I would explain to her why God wouldn’t want Lily to have any friends, and I didn’t want a failed friendship with God on top of everything else.
But this day, I felt inspired to try again. I didn’t bother with a novena but just asked for a favor straight out: “Dear St. Therese, on this special day of your feast, I ask that you please help Lily today. Let someone see her. Let someone notice her. I don’t need a rose, I would be happy with this answered prayer instead. Dear St. Therese, it’s sad that I even need to ask for this!”
I then tried very hard to practice Therese’s “little way” of practicing abandonment that God would answer in any way that he felt fitting for Lily’s spiritual good.
I was not really expecting things to be any better at the end of the day. I had prayed so many times over the years for Lily to gain some friends, or just to have one faithful friend, but my prayers seemed to fall on deaf ears. I wasn’t expecting it to be any different, so I was pretty surprised when I picked up Lily from school to see a big beaming smile on her face.
“Mom, guess what? I had a conversation with some kids at lunch today! They were really nice. I don’t know their names,” she giggled. “But they talked to me.”
We rejoiced over this little spot of sunshine and I let Lily know of my prayer on St. Therese’s feast day. I encouraged her to keep praying to her for help in this situation. Lily, a little wide-eyed over the thought of a great saint interceding on her behalf, agreed she would continue to pray.
The next day, I prayed again in much the same way, “Dear St. Therese, can we extend your feast day a little longer? Please let Lily make some friends today. Let her have a good day. Please bring my intention to God and work on our behalf.”
In the same way as before, I again released Lily to God and St. Therese to arrange her day in whatever way he thought best.
Still, I didn’t expect two happy days in a row, and thought I was dreaming when Lily climbed into the car with more happy news. “I can’t believe it, Mom! Two good days in a row! I made a friend today in Minecraft Club! We’re building a village together! And guess what, she even likes the same TV shows as I do, and she likes to draw, and she … ” and on and on Lily went about her new friend as I thanked God and St. Therese once more in my heart.
The next day, I thought maybe I would be pushing it to ask St. Therese for “more good days” for Lily when we had so much happiness already. But as before, I felt the same confidence, as though St. Therese were nodding her head encouragingly, reminding me of her promise to “send a shower of roses and do good upon earth.”
And so again, I prayed, “Dear St. Therese, thank you for hearing our prayers for Lily. Thank you for helping her find a friend. I continue to ask for help in this area, let her regain the confidence that she’s lost over the years. Let her make friends. Let her make many friends and be a friend to others.”
In return, I promised St. Therese that I would tell others of how she helped Lily so that others would feel inspired to pray to her for help with friends as well.
But when I came to pick up Lily that day, she did not have a smile on her face. I prayed it was for some other reason other than her friends ignoring her again. When she got in the car, I asked her how her day was, at the same time, dreading the answer.
“Well, my friends finally ditched me today. When we were at lunch, they asked me to move to another table so their other friend could sit there.” My mouth dropped open at such blatant rudeness. “So what did you do?” I asked.
“What else could I do? I moved over to another table.” The resignation with which Lily said this broke my heart right in half. A lump formed in my throat and I couldn’t trust myself to speak as feelings of anger swept over me. It didn’t help that now I was imagining Lily gathering up her lunch, and moving over to a table to sit by herself, feeling the sting of humiliation and rejection as she tried to eat her peanut butter sandwich.
I swallowed a few times and made myself be quiet for the rest of the way home as I tried to calm down. I wanted to march over to that school and give those kids a good tongue lashing. I wanted them to know how much they hurt Lily. I wanted to teach them manners since their parents obviously hadn’t. But I didn’t. I knew that once again, there was nothing I could do. Like Lily, I resigned myself to it.
When we got home, I asked Lily to come in my room so I could talk to her privately. I brought up homeschooling (we had talked about it in the past) and asked her if she would like to give it a try. As far as I was concerned, the decision to homeschool or not had been made. There was no point in sending Lily to a place where kids caused her so much pain. But to my surprise, she looked thoughtful and said, “I think I want to stay at school. Things are actually getting better lately. I’m talking to more people now. It’s getting easier.”
She couldn’t have surprised me more. “But after what happened with your friends today? How can things be getting better? It sounds like it’s getting worse!”
“I know,” she said and her eyes suddenly got very bright, “but I forgot to tell you that when they made me get up to leave, I went to sit with some other kids at another table. And they were really nice, Mom! They talked to me and didn’t ignore me like my other friends did. They said I could sit with them again tomorrow!”
I couldn’t believe my ears. I bowed my head and silently prayed, “St.Therese, you didn’t let me down after all. You didn’t just give Lily one friend, but a whole table!”
“And things really are getting better now? You’re talking to more people?” I asked, trying hard not to be too emotional for my easily embarrassed daughter.
“Yes, things are getting better. Every day this week, things have been getting better. Mom, I don’t feel invisible anymore. They’re beginning to notice me whereas before, they didn’t even realize I was sitting behind them in class.”
At last, my prayer is answered. Thank you, Jesus.
“We need to thank St. Therese for this,” I told Lily, “She’s the one who has helped you with this, you know.”
“I know,” Lily said. “She gave me five new friends in just one week!”
Five friends plus one, I thought to myself. St. Therese, friend of the friendless, thank you.
Becky Arganbright is the author of three children’s books on St. Therese of Lisieux.