What would it be like, I wonder, to discover after the fact that someone was created by God to enter your life, meet you, and to offer their whole life: works, sufferings joys and all … solely and totally for you and your conversion? And you had no idea until they had died that this was so. How unworthy and confused I would feel to know that I was that beloved of God and of another person….that it was for me He asked them to suffer and they said a resounding yes.

Such is the story that has made its way into my hands. Elisabeth Leseur, a Catholic Frenchwoman of the late 19th century – lively, beautiful, witty, charming on the outside. Married to Felix Leseur, a successful, cultured, well traveled and well-read atheist who hated the Church and tried with all his power to get her to hate and renounce it as well. She never once argued or tried to persuade him. But she never wavered either. He was her best beloved and she wanted to give him her best of treasure – the peace of God that she knew. It cost her much to buy that field.

Elisabeth loved conversation. She probably had many in her early years of marriage as she traveled to interesting places, and hosted countless parties. She was well read and loved music and the arts. There was much to talk about with her friends. It is what she did best for she was witty, kind, and perceptive: great qualities in a conversationalist.

But she suffered the great loneliness of dwelling in a social circle that did not believe like she did all the things she most wanted to talk about. Her faith, God’s ways with the soul, – spiritual things. She was not even able to have the joy and companionship of children. Her cross was utter solitude. But she was given the grace to offer each of these things for the happiness of one day being able to share the life of God with Felix – her true love.

As she grew more and more frail because of health problems, she became more isolated at home. She had to spend long days sitting or reclining on a sofa because of pain or weakness due to a chronic liver problem and later a virulent and excruciating breast cancer. And for a time, it seems, the human conversations she longed for were not to be hers. I am sure this was no small suffering. But in proportion to their lack , in flowed an abundance of spiritual insights and soul searching in those lonely afternoons. She set out to form daily habits of prayer. She began to keep a spiritual journal. She began to assiduously study many masters of the spiritual life and she read the New Testament constantly. She even learned Greek and Latin to better understand. She learned to seek and converse with Christ.

Learning the fine art of conversing with God is not the same as human conversation. It does not always bring satisfaction, sweetness, or the comfort of human companionship. It does not feel that way. But it did bring her peace over time – learning how to converse with Him alone.

As she grew better at it, she longed to bring friends into the conversation. She longed to share the thoughts God had shared with her. She DID know a lot of great conversationalists, but most of the best were atheists who scoffed at the faith and did not understand. They were probably afraid to think too deeply with her in case their disbelief was toppled. There is nothing more arrogant than a cornered atheist. And the one person she wanted to converse with was the worst of them all – her beloved, the love of her life, Felix. And he refused.

She was alone. But she conversed with her notebooks. She wrote. And wrote. And she suffered the loneliness of a one-sided human conversation for so many years. I love her so much for persevering and continuing to listen for God each day in that loneliness. It was how she slowly discovered what she was to do. Through her sufferings of both body and soul, her deep isolation, she began to realize how far from God most people around her felt. They had many sufferings as well, but did not understand the fine art of conversation. That God speaks and then waits for us to speak. God wanted her to show them how to do it.

Felix admits that so many people – utter strangers to him – somehow found out about her and mysteriously began to show up at the house. Atheists would talk to her for hours about many things, young mothers would come to her for advice, sad people left happy. The strays, the unbelievers, the lost. She did not get to share her conversation with believers, or the ‘found’ or those safely in the fold. She was sent to the lost, the confused, the troubled.

She began to converse like God converses with whoever knocks at his door. She was hosting HIS party. And the strength to do so came from her conversations in loneliness. It’s a bit of a paradox. But there it is.

Today I read this from her diary. It could only have been written by someone who knew loneliness and isolation and the suffering of being misunderstood by loved ones. It reminded me that utter strength comes through daily prayer, even if we don’t feel it right away – that prayer behind our closed door within our solitude shared by God.

“Let us Christians be sure to never “break the bruised reed” nor “to quench the smoking flax”. That reed is perhaps the mournful, suffering soul of a brother; and the humble flax extinguished by our icy breath may be some noble spirit that we could have restored and uplifted. Let us beware; nothing is so delicate and so sacred as the human soul; nothing is so quickly bruised. Let each one of our words and deeds contain a principle of life that, penetrating other spirits, will communicate light and strength and will reveal God to them”

At her funeral, Felix was amazed by so many people gathered in the Church truly desolate that she had left them. There would be no more joy at her voice and kind understanding. So many were weeping that he did not know. But Elizabeth knew them all. He was left a bit flummoxed.

Elizabeth kept all her notebooks secret – only her trusted sister knew about them. Felix never knew. Until she died.

Felix found them one day and was shocked and moved to tears of sorrow. He read through them over and over and eventually confessed his sins and entered the Dominican Order.

What must he have felt – having witnessed and now recalled all the physical sufferings and disappointments firsthand and joyfully accepted by her – and realize they were all for love of HIM who had been so obstinate? One night shortly before she died she told him, “You will come and find me again – I know it”. And he did in the end. Her journals became a map for him to follow on his own spiritual journey.

That God loves us this much. And sometimes asks another human being’s entire life of suffering to reveal His love to another. It boggles the mind how He actually DOES pursue us in His mysterious ways.


This post was first published on The Inscapist and is reprinted here with permission. 


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