“…your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3). To understand what it means to be “hidden with Christ” leads us to the writings of St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897), who found that the secret of eternal happiness was to hide herself in Jesus, to decrease that he might increase (see Jn 3:30).
In her poem, My Song for Today, she writes:
Ah! Lord, let me hide in your Face,
There I’ll no longer hear the world’s vain noise,
Give me your love, keep me in your grace
Just for today.
In her Story of a Soul, Thérèse elaborates on her love for the hidden life: “I felt that Carmel was the desert where God wanted me to go…to hide myself.” She reminds us that it is not necessary to perform striking works to please God but to hide ourselves in the “nazareths” of everydayness in such a way that “the left hand knows not what the right is doing.” Among her favorite Scripture texts was Matthew 11:25: “I thank you, Father,” Jesus says, “Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants…” It was Jesus himself, hidden in the depths of her “poor little heart,” who taught Thérèse how to find happiness in hiddenness.
The first secret of doing so is to live fully for Jesus in the relative obscurity of everyday life. There we hide ourselves from the passing glitter of vainglory and instead adopt his attitudes of faithful service, loving surrender, and abandonment to Father’s will.
The second secret is to live with hope in the hidden arena of daily suffering. No one but Jesus may know how devastating this migraine headache of mine is or how I feel because so many people I loved have passed away. With the help of grace, we may accept affliction as a hidden way to advance our flight to God.
The third secret is to practice the little way of spiritual childhood, which teaches us to detect the meaning of redemptive love in places where we may least expect to find it. In a baby’s first step or in a rainbow illumining a cloudy sky, we thank God for letting us see that these “little nothings” are divinely initiated and that it behooves us not to call attention to ourselves.
The fourth secret is to surrender to God’s will and to cease relying on our own will power. This “effortless effort” is one of the best secrets of the hidden life. We focus not on what we do or do not accomplish but on ways to be and become wholly reliant on the will of God. If we succeed, fine. If we fail, fine too.
The fifth secret is to prove to ourselves and others that every obstacle can become an aid in disguise to transformation in Christ. Her fondness for the hidden life aroused in Thérèse an abundance of optimism. She never failed to gather her whole self, perfection and all, around the blessed assurance of Christ’s love for her. From the voided vessel she had become, she poured the fullness of God’s presence into the heart of everyone she helped from young novices to aging nuns.
Living the hidden life becomes an avenue to simplicity, a virtue Thérèse dearly loved, since it freed her from the complexity of having to make herself the center of others’ attention. Her choice was to attribute to God the fruits of her prayer life and the accomplishments that flowed from it.
The more hidden Thérèse was, the more she transformed the world around her into the house of God. No matter the circumstances in which she found herself as a poet, a spiritual director, a composer of an autobiography that soon after her death became a classic, she gave God the glory.
Discipleship does not demand the adoption of elaborate techniques or complex agendas. What matters is to place ourselves, small and insignificant as we are, into the hands of God. In this way, the lasting fruits of the hidden life emanate not from what we do but from who we are. While heroic efforts may be appropriate in some cases, they are not essential to our becoming spiritually mature. Our feelings may veer from consolation to desolation, but faith in the efficacy of the hidden life never wavers. The Lord knows the innermost secrets of our heart:
“… He sees from of old the things that are to come.
He discloses what has been and what is to be,
and he reveals the traces of hidden things.
No thought escapes him,
and nothing is hidden from him.”