One Day at a Time with St. John Baptiste de la Salle and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

If we knew the crosses in store for our lives before they were given to us, we may despair and give up immediately. Saint Jean Baptiste de la Salle and Mother Seton show us how to take our crosses with full trust in God one day at a time.

Around this time last year, I made a meme and posted it on social media. “God gives us grace sufficient for a day,” it read, “not the entire quarantine.”

I had created it mostly as a reminder to myself, but it seemed others needed the reminder as well. By the end of the day, it had been liked and shared across hundreds of accounts.

At the time, many of us were still thinking that the “quarantine” would last two, maybe three, more weeks. It was just a short, tough time we needed to get through, one day at a time. Well, we were right about the “one day at a time” part.

This year, as we celebrate the familiar season of Easter, I find myself continually reminded of the unfamiliar ways we celebrated this season last year. At our house in 2020, like in many others, we did not attend Mass, no extended family visited, and we roasted a turkey because grocery stores had limited access to more traditional Easter foods. I topped each of the kids’ Easter baskets with a small bottle of hand sanitizer — a rare treat at the time!

Today, I can look back at all the ways our lives have shifted and changed over the past year, all the losses we have suffered and uncomfortable new ways of life we have taken on, and I can see that “one day at a time” is very much how God has been working in our hearts. Because He is like that — a God of small steps and nudges.

When I was younger, I tended to pray for very specific outcomes. I would encounter a problem, decide what I thought the solution was, and then I would pray for that exact thing to come to pass. It’s very human to pray this way. We think we know best, and so we decide what is best, and then ask God to give us that very thing. After all, Jesus himself promises us “Ask and you shall receive.” (John 16:24)

But have you ever found yourself frustrated after praying this way because God does not answer your prayer by immediately conforming His will to your own? Me too. More times than I care to remember.

But something I’ve come to realize is that the example of prayer Jesus gives us is different from the  “pray and then you get what you want” model. When His disciples asked him to teach them to pray, He taught them the Lord’s Prayer in which we say, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and “Thy will be done.”

God promises to give us what we need, one day at a time. Little by little, He moves us toward His will, which despite our own preferences, schemings, and calculations, is always what is best for us. If we could have seen everything that the past year entailed ahead of time, we might have despaired at the start. I often joke to my husband that if the two of us could have seen all that we were going to have to endure inside of marriage and family life, we never would have said “I do.” It’s a joke. Kind of. Thanks be to God who knew how to move us toward his beautiful plan for our family, one day at a time.

John Baptiste de la Salle (1651-1719), whose feast day we celebrate April 7, knows about the incremental way that God works in our hearts. When this French priest began doing some work to reform schools and train teachers, he had no idea that God was nudging him toward the lifelong commitment of establishing the very first Catholic schools and founding the Institute of the Brothers of Christian Schools.

He described it like this: “God, who guides all things with wisdom and serenity, whose way it is not to force the inclinations of persons, willed to commit me entirely to the development of the schools. He did this in an imperceptible way and over a long period of time so that one commitment led to another in a way that I did not foresee in the beginning.”

And this, I am learning, is what Jesus teaches us to pray for when we say “Give us this day our daily bread” and “Thy will be done.” We are reminding ourselves that God alone knows what is best for us, and we ask for the grace to know and do His will, one little step, one “imperceptible way” at a time.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton surely knew this when God interrupted her plans, again and again, as she continually sought to do His will. She could not have anticipated and would never have chosen the events of losing her husband at a young age, struggling through financial crises, and enduring multiple illnesses and even the tragic deaths of two of her children during her lifetime.

And yet, she would not have changed any of it, as she always found joy in doing God’s will alone. “Thy will be done,” she once wrote to a friend, “What a comfort and support those four little words are to my soul.”

Today, I want to do the same. I want to pray the words “Thy will be done” and find in them the same wisdom that St. John Baptiste de la Salle found and the same comfort and support that St. Elizabeth Ann Seton found. I want to pray “Give us this day our daily bread,” and then rest in the knowledge that God is present and always guiding me toward His will, one small step at a time.

DANIELLE BEAN is the brand manager for CatholicMom.com and former publisher and editor-in-chief of Catholic Digest. Danielle is author of several books for women including Momnipotent,You’re Worth It! and her newest book, You Are Enough. She is also creator and host of the Girlfriends podcast and a popular speaker on a variety of subjects related to Catholic family life, parenting, marriage, and the spirituality of motherhood. Learn more at DanielleBean.com.

Image: Central Medallion of St. Jean de Baptiste Chapel Stained Glass Window, Paris, France, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons