Most people would recognize the name of Mother Teresa, the Catholic nun of Albanian ethnicity. She is well-known for her service to the poor and sick in Calcutta. The charity she established, Missionaries of Charity, numbered 610 in 123 countries at the time of her death. She received numerous awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.
She left home at the age of 18 to join the Sisters of Loret and never saw her mother or sister again. Although in her early years as a nun she was a teacher, she felt God calling her to live among and to serve the poor and infirmed. She started a hospice for leprosy patients. I always believed that someone who has given their life for others must have an awesome relationship with God. Mother Teresa, however, spent the last 50 years of her life in doubt about her religious beliefs and whether God even existed at all. That revelation disarmed me. How could that be? In a letter to a church official she wrote:
Where is my faith? Even deep down … there is nothing but emptiness and darkness … If there be God—please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul … How painful is this unknown pain—I have no Faith. Repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal, … What do I labor for? If there be no God, there can be no soul. If there be no soul then, Jesus, You also are not true.
Even at the end of her life, she said she felt no presence of God whatsoever. When I read her letters, it broke my heart to hear the dark sadness in her, to hear her call herself a hypocrite. It is really hard to hear that someone you have admired for many years is not who you thought she was. My first thought was about how she had deceived us all, but how can you discount all the wonderful things she did? You cannot.
After giving it much thought, I realized that even Mother Teresa was merely human, just like you and me. Most Christians, including myself, have periods in their lives when there are spiritual ups and downs, when we wonder about the meaning of it all. It is always dangerous to put any human being on a pedestal for they are sure to fall. What I value about Mother Teresa is that she never stopped doing the work God called her to, even though she did not always feel like it. What happened to her happens every day – we want to “feel” someway or another and if we do not, we believe something is lacking. “Feeling” is only one of our senses; we perceive the world in many other ways, too. It is dangerous to become a slave to our feelings because they will lead us astray. In Romans 12:2, the Apostle Paul wrote, “And be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” When we have times of doubts and fears, it is time to let God renews our minds.
Mother Teresa worked long and hard and accomplished much on this earth. She suffered two heart attacks and a myriad of health issues as well as depression. Sounds pretty human, huh? We cannot allow ourselves to live for feelings, but must carry on the work God has for us. The legacy she left us is perhaps more valuable now that we realize that she was human and struggled as we do.
“I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14