St. Therese of Lisieux once said, “True love begins when there is nothing looked for in return.”
I’m a young newlywed, and I’m madly in love.
People may roll their eyes at this, but there is always more to relationships than the pseudo-romance people see on their Instagram stories.
I’ve been given the gift of a holy husband, and with that gift, God has offered me a taste of what actual love entails in a very short amount of time.
Within a few short weeks of marriage, we found ourselves in mourning.
My husband and I really push ourselves to grasp the concept of loving selflessly, and we do our very best to love one another that way. It wasn’t until we lost our baby that the mystery of loving with nothing in return became our concrete reality.
Strength isn’t always what you think it is.
There’s a certain level of strength women must possess within themselves to go about daily life, strength for the countless moments that they need to endure for the well-being of their families’ and for society. They need the strength of God to carry out His plans in their lives.
I felt very helpless and weak. I love a baby I will never know this side of heaven. I poured my body, heart, and soul into a life that I cannot see, into a personality I’m unable to delight in. (Notice all of the ‘I’s?) I didn’t realize my expectations to be loved back by this baby until we lost him or her. I had expectations of God and of myself. My joy in expecting was speckled with drops of selfishness. I could write for days about the lessons learned regarding love and suffering, but here I want to focus on the importance of strength.
I found myself wondering how I would get through this miscarriage without the weight of grief crushing me. I know God loves us and our baby loves us, too, but I never thought I would go my whole life without seeing it plainly in the physical world.
I needed strength when those moments hit me and still need it every day.
Women are, in fact, much stronger than they think. However, I’m certain the strength I’m talking about contrasts with most women’s versions of strength.
After I miscarried I wanted to be at perfect peace and trust God effortlessly out of the gate. I wanted to handle our loss with grace and pure acceptance. I wanted to inspire others with how fruitful it can be to endure suffering well. Don’t get me wrong, these desires definitely helped me focus on the right things, but I was approaching it with a bit of a perfectionistic mindset.
I had to give myself some grace. This was (and is) hard.
My love/hate relationship with perfectionism.
Over the years, I have been tempted by perfectionism, with always being put together and wanting to be in control of my life. I was a straight-A student essentially all the way through college. I like things crisp and clean and organized. I am big into efficiency and time management. If it were up to me, no one would be late to anything… ever. That being said, I’ve been known to wrestle with perfectionism. Acting like everything is great when you’re in the middle of true suffering is not being strong, it’s being unrealistic. It took me a hot minute to grasp this Truth after our loss, but I had to accept that it was time to rethink my approach. I couldn’t be the head honcho of my life anymore (especially now that I’m a wife.) It was time to let go of what I believed strength to be.
Here are a few things I needed to be reminded of:
Strong women cry and then pull themselves off the ground, because they know they don’t belong there.
Strong women lean on the holy men in their lives.
Strong women don’t complain, whine, or snap when they’re struggling.
Strong women ask for help and are patient in their waiting.
Strong women know their holy, beautiful, and immaculate place in this world and don’t scream or scratch for more.
Ultimately, the strength of a woman is precisely in accepting her weakness. That is the secret of feminine strength.
A humble woman knows that her greatness lies in being little.
Our natural desire as women is to run circles around people and prove ourselves. We look for reasons to pick up the slack before there is anything to pick up at all. I discovered a massive hole in this mindset. It does NOT work when you suffer greatly. Suffering is the quickest reality check of our weakness and our humanity.
Being little is hard.
Being little requires strength because it means we are susceptible to being knocked down by the winds of this world. We don’t need strength to be great. We need strength to be weak.
When you are a true woman of littleness and vulnerability, your guard needs to be strengthened so you don’t fall prey to those who will quickly take advantage of you. It may be other women, men, employers, businesses, demons, or tragedies in life. The wicked can smell purity from miles away, and women desperately need strength for the battles of daily life. Innocence and humility are favored by Our Lord. As Padre Pio said, “Holiness means living humbly.“
All we have to do is take a look at the Blessed Mother in all her precious femininity. No woman has ever been smaller or stronger.
This strength may come naturally to many women, but it’s important to know we can obtain and build up this strength in many ways.
- First and foremost, we get this strength from God by asking in prayer and through the Sacraments.
- We get it from consistency. An object in motion stays in motion, and growth mindsets are a holy habit.
- We also become stronger by choosing to. We have the freedom to decide how we will act every minute of the day. Now, women can surely be overcome by emotion and sentimentality, but regardless, we are responsible for our attitudes and behaviors. We have the power to choose strength over inadequacy any day.
- We can grow in strength by words of encouragement. It’s powerful to be told that someone believes in you, that living a strong, virtuous life is noble. I am amazed at how much simple phrases have strengthened me throughout my grieving. I absorb every word like it’s my first time hearing it. Things will get better. God has a plan. He will never give you more than you can handle. You can do this. Be not afraid.
A woman’s strength is different than a man’s strength.
I have come to clearly recognize now more than ever how backwards society views female strength.
The “fight for women” isn’t a fight for femininity at all. It’s rooted in despising men who fail to be real men. It’s pure resentment.
When feminists misinterpret humility as humiliating and worldly strength as a virtue, they directly undermine society. Women, more than men, have God-given capabilities to acquire a multitude of graces (creating life in the womb, compassion, submission). Yet, women must rely on men to direct and guide this precious and abundant power. That is man’s great gift: to reason, to be tough, to be in tune with God’s directions, to protect.
When men are removed from the greatness of women, women’s incredible power can be so perverse and misdirected that it wrecks the environment and produces an equally powerful evil. Women can be the greatest creature or the most wretched depending on what they do with the gifts God has given them. With great power comes great responsibility. Every single holy woman that has made it to Sainthood had a holy man leading her. Period.
Strong women rely on holy men.
For women to reach the potential God desires for them, they must be inseparable from their dependance on holy men. Holy men include fathers, spiritual directors, priests, husbands, brothers, and God Himself who takes the Masculine role of Father. Mother Teresa leaned on the priest, Celeste Van Exem, as her spiritual director. St. Zélie Martin was married to St. Louis Martin. Their daughter, St. Terese of Lisieux, absolutely adored her father Louis who called her “his little queen.” Mary Magdalene followed Jesus everywhere He went. St. Clare of Assisi was inspired by the life of St. Francis of Assisi and followed in his footsteps.
And of course, we have the Virgin Mary as our prime example. She is easily the greatest creature short of Our Lord, and it is evident that her cooperation in womanhood was her channel to heavenly glory as Queen of Heaven and Earth. Jesus was her protector and leader. When she lost Him who was her son, He placed her under the wing and protection of St. John. Holy women and holy men need each other. Women do not need to be “too strong” for men.
Had Mary refused Joseph’s protection during the flight into Egypt, we would not be redeemed by her Son.
She submitted daily to the guidance of holy men.
She submitted when the Angel Gabriel told her of her miraculous pregnancy saying, “Be it done unto me according to Thy Word.”
She submitted when Simeon prophesied of her spiritual pain.
She submitted when Jesus quieted her at Cana though respected her request, and again when she watched him be beaten by soldiers and hung on a cross to die.
She played her part well without interrupting or challenging any of the events that God laid in her path. She had incredible strength simply by accepting her littleness, her holy feminine weakness.
I look to Mary now more than ever. Her little life was her greatest strength. And after all… she lost her child, too.
Not just any man will do, you want yourself a HOLY man.
Imagine if St. Joseph or Jesus ignored her all those years, or poked fun at her purity. It hurts to even think about it, because her innocence and humility are so immense that it goes against any sane man’s conscience to think of her as less than she is.
Mary is like a little child who perfectly and joyfully obeys authority at all times without question or doubt. To treat her as a nuisance or burden is unnatural. St. John Paul the Great once said, “God has assigned as a duty of every man the dignity of every woman.” It is essential for men to love their wives more than themselves, like Jesus loves Mary or Christ loves the Church. It is absolutely essential. Men need to speak kindly to women, listen to them, respect them. Remember, their strength lies in being weak.
If man understood the magnitude of virtue and holiness his wife is capable of, he would do everything he possibly could to support her in achieving sanctity. The problem is that so many men don’t know how to do this or where to start. Man must look at woman the way God looks at her.
Men, think about the things you say to a a woman. She needs you.
- How do you view her?
- Are you proud of it?
- Does it build her up?
- Does it support and protect her dignity?
- Do you make fun of her or joke around in ways that belittler her womanhood?
- Do you cherish her?
- Do you strengthen her?
Women truly deserve to be placed on a pedestal, not because they are better than anyone else, but because their frailty and preciousness demand it. If men want to encourage women to be holy, they need to recognize in themselves their own responsibility to preserve, encourage, and nurture the beauty of women’s littleness.
Women so often have a hard enough time recognizing how valuable and adorable their weakness is, that they don’t need others making light of it, too. A woman who is well-loved and secure is far more likely to cultivate strength.
Not everyone will see you the way they should.
So what happens when your beautiful feminine weakness is not protected, recognized, or cherished? It may not come as a surprise to you that there are many days in life you will feel trampled and overcome by the world. Thankfully Jesus tells us in John 16:33, “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” We will surely suffer in this world when evil seems all around us, and we don’t know where to turn. We may have to suffer alone sometimes when it seems like no one understands or cares. Trust me, I get it.
Our prized weakness may make us feel incredibly vulnerable. But, I assure you we are capable of being strong enough for the battles of this world because no matter how alone we feel, we are never truly alone. All we need to do is contemplate the face of Jesus and ask for His strength. He is ready to give us the strength we need in this life to fulfill the plans He has for us.
It wouldn’t make sense for God to veil women in weakness for no reason and watch them fall. The strength of a woman is all from God. He saturates us in grace and mercy. Because of Our Lord, Catholics can tenderly recall Proverbs 31, “Who can find a woman of worth? Far beyond jewels is her value.” “She is clothed in strength and dignity and laughs without fear of the future.”
Call your mother.
Like Mary, I encourage you to rest easy knowing that God’s got it. He always has and will not abandon you when you feel too weak to tackle the little (or big) moments that pop up in your daily life. After all, He gave us his own mother to look to. She is our beautiful model of femininity and loves us deeply.
And Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him. He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” Luke 1:46-55
Charlie Lux Hanus, ora pro nobis.