The Little Way: How to Become a Saint

The chance to be a saint is always before us. It is a tragedy not to take it. The little way is long, but it is not hard, not if you take it one small step at a time.

I always knew my sister Ruthie was good. I didn’t know, until she had cancer, that she was also great.

From the first day of her diagnosis until the morning she died at home in her husband Mike’s arms, Ruthie showed extraordinary faith, hope, and courage in the face of death. Everybody could see the greatness in that. What was harder to discern was the greatness with which she had lived every ordinary day of her very ordinary life.

Ruthie was a small-town schoolteacher who lived and worked in a poor state in the Deep South. She was modest and frugal, and hated calling attention to herself. All Ruthie wanted out of life was to be with her family, teach her students (she called them “sweet babies”), and have fun with her friends. That, and to fish on our father’s pond.

She never became rich or famous, and never wanted to. Reading 17-year-old Ruthie’s letters to Mike at military boot camp, the impressive thing is how satisfied she was with the simple things in life. This is how Ruthie Leming lived. This is who she was.

Two months after her cancer diagnosis, some friends hosted a fundraising concert they called Leming-Aid. Ruthie thought she didn’t deserve it, but the community wouldn’t be stopped. They wanted to show Ruthie how much they loved her, and how much she meant to them. Over 1,000 people – more than half the town – came out for Ruthie that night.


“We love her so much. She has given so much to our family,” said one woman. Ruthie had taught the woman’s children. That woman had driven six hours, from Houston, to be there for Ruthie on her big night.

After Ruthie died, the line outside the Methodist church at her wake was hours long. Over and over, I heard the same story from mourners, especially former students: Let me tell you what a difference Ruthie made in our lives.

In thinking about the spiritual grandeur hidden within Ruthie’s ordinary life, I thought of another young Christian woman who lived plainly and died early: St. Therese of Lisieux.

Therese was a French nun who lived a quiet convent life. Like Ruthie, she loved simplicity. She knew that she was not made to do glorious things in life, but believed she could make God happy if she did small things with a big heart. “What matters in life,” wrote Therese, “are not great deeds, but great love.”

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