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  • Writer's pictureMáire Íde

Five Lessons For the Single Life- from Marie-Azélie Guérin

Updated: Jun 26, 2021

For now, I'm not going to tell you who Marie-Azélie Guérin was.

You may already know (if so well and good) but if not I invite you to come to know her through exploring these five things her life story can teach us about how to live a single life well:

1. Trust and Serve God in Your Season of Uncertainty

Marie-Azélie's first steps in vocational discernment amounted to a 'failed' attempt to move towards religious life. Although she sought to enter the Sisters of Charity, she was turned away on the grounds of poor health.

The lesson here is that despite the bitterness of rejection, she refused to turn away from God or believe that because her attempt didn't go as she had planned God was done with her.

Rather, she accepted the circumstances that weren't her fault and sought to find ways to glorify Him in the reality of her situation, and the vocational paths that remained open to her.

2. Don't Be Afraid to Take Small Steps In Practical Directions

One of the the first things she did after facing rejection at the convent was to start a small lace-making business to help at home as her father didn't have a lot of money.

This simple venture with modest aspirations gave her a simple focus in a domain that let her use her creative potential in a relatively simple manner, tending towards contemplation.

However in time, it would also grow to become the main source of income for her family.

If you feel God drawing you towards certain simple side projects in your time of waiting, don't be afraid to partner with Him – even if you don't see big fruits immediately.

You don't know what He may have planned for the little efforts that may seem insignificant today!

3. Don't Get Caught Up In Fretting Over Things You Can't Control

Paradoxically, this is a lesson Marie-Azélie can teach us because she struggled with anxiety quite a bit in her life, especially in little things.

Whilst someone with a naturally easygoing personality might seem to take a season of singleness in their stride, someone who is naturally inclined to be anxious about things or want to have certainties about the future may struggle more with this.

She teaches us that our natural inclination in this regard is of little import for our capacity to be faithful. What matters is that we find concrete ways to surrender ourselves and our natural dispositions to God and let Him do with them what He wills.

Whilst emotions come and go, God remains the same, and so long as we actively move ourselves towards allowing Him to be God, things will work out!

4. Appreciate Present Privileges, Without Seizing Them

One of the trickiest balancing acts of the single life, especially when you have an intuition that it may not be your long-term vocational direction, can be appreciating what it gives you without becoming attached to it.

You may feel busy, but if you are called to marry and have kids, you probably have more freedom now to spend time getting to know God and who He is calling you to be than you will have for quite some time after you enter into your vocation.

It is a good thing to recognise and appreciate that privilege.

Marie-Azélie would go on to say in this in later, busier years:

“I feel the need of quiet reflection to think of salvation, which the complications of this world have made me neglect.”

When a busy life is lived in love for others, the very sacrifice of that desire can be offered as a prayer.

However, only a soul that is already formed in recollection will be able to recognise the desire in order to offer it.

Now is the time to seek that formation in prayer, not just for comfort, but for pure love.

5. Never, Ever EVER Stop Listening

Marie-Azélie's season of singleness was to draw to a close in her twenty-eighth year.

This meant that when God wanted to reveal the next step of the plan, her heart was open and she was ready to hear what He wanted to say.

One spring day, walking across a bridge, she passed a man who attracted her attention and

heard an interior voice say 'He is the one I have prepared for you'.

Whilst she hadn't wasted the years of her single life pining away for the plan of God to be fulfilled – but rather used it to seek and serve Him in the present moment, she never made an end of trying to convince Him that He didn't have to keep working in her life, or a show of being 'fine'.

This meant that when God wanted to reveal the next step of the plan, her heart was open and she was ready to hear what He wanted to say.

Being happy and faithful where she was didn't mean closing her heart to possibilities, but living fully in the loving and faith-filled vulnerability of not knowing how or when God would choose to make His Purposes clear.

Tying it All Together...

If you didn't know at the start of reading who the woman I am writing about is, you may have figured it out by now!

That man she passed on the Bridge was a watchmaker, called Louis Martin, and the couple - for they married just months after that meeting (on 12th July 1858) - are better known today as Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin - the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

I have referred to St. Zélie by her full baptismal and maiden name to this point for two reasons.

The first was simply to hide her identity (for at least some readers!) so that we might encounter some of the ins and outs of her story with the freshness granted by not presuming we already know someone .

The second reason is because the lessons we have been looking at spring from the time when St. Zélie still bore her maiden name – and all the uncertainties that it included! Yet her baptismal name stands as a reminder that whether or not the plan was concluded, Marie-Azélie was already deeply loved and personally called by God. And that time of singleness wasn't supposed to be a period of wasted years before a purpose came along, but rather a blessed season of active preparation and partnership with God that would form the wife, mother and saint she became.

St. Zélie would give to the world, amongst her many holy children, a daughter who would change the prayer lives and vocational journeys of countless Catholics and help to teach the world to love God - precisely through the revolution of being faithful, trusting and loving in little things.

There must have been moments when it didn't seem like life was heading anywhere special in the midst of spending most of her twenty-something years single and humbly engaged in simple tasks!

However the simplicity, trust and faithfulness this formed in her would contribute towards forming a household that would form a Saint who would change the world!

St. Zélie's life testifies that not a moment of those preparatory years is intended to be wasted.

St. Zélie Martin, Pray for us!


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