June - Lessons from Darkness
In August 2007, the world discovered the counterpoint to Mother Teresa’s public image when a compilation of her personal letters was published in a book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. The letters, written to several of Teresa’s spiritual mentors and confidants, depicted her virtually unknown struggle through personal darkness that spanned five decades. She defined her struggle with the lamentation, “I am told God loves me — and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.” This she accented with other descriptions: “no faith,” she wrote, “no love — no zeal… Heaven means nothing.” Of course the letters created fodder for frenzied discussion within the media, and atheists are wasting no criticisms. But what should we as believers know about Mother Teresa’s dark days? Several observations come to mind…
She was among spiritual giants. Mother Teresa’s letters do not exclude her from being regarded as a hero of the Faith, but include her all the more! You do not have to think long to recall the names of Biblical figures who suffered the same sense of abandonment. There was King David who wept, “How long, O LORD? ...How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1). Before him, Job exclaimed “But if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him. When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him,” (Job 23:8-9). And even our Lord Jesus, who cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
Her struggle is universal. Though the media answered the news of Mother Teresa’s internal vacancy with astonishment, in reality scores of believers could empathize with her. We have all known seasons when our questions and earnest supplications, sincere and heart-felt as they may be, seem lost to an unresponsive heaven. Because of this, maybe we can find some comfort here with Mother Teresa. Maybe we can take up her courage and echo what she insisted to God in the face of her misery: “If this brings You glory—if souls are brought to you—with joy I accept all to the end of my life.”
She remained obedient. Even after struggling for half a century through spiritual darkness, Teresa stayed committed to addressing the needs of the poor in Calcutta. More directly, she remained obedient to the work the Lord had called her to do on this earth. But why did she stay? Why did she keep herself in an arena of misery? “I accept,” she wrote, “not in my feelings—but with my will, the Will of God—I accept His will.” She stayed simply because she was determined to do so not out of compassion, but in spite of its absence. Unwavering volition…how remarkable! The trend in today’s society seems to place far too much weight on the feelings that Mother Teresa lacked. We let our feelings dictate our level of commitment. When the feelings diminish, rather than dismiss the feelings, we dismiss ourselves. We back out of the obligations—even the relationships—we once asserted to be the will of God. Mother Teresa did not. Not after five years in experienced darkness; not even after fifty.
The exposed humanity of this pint-sized saint should both encourage us while calling into question our own level of obedience, as well as the motivation behind it. Check your own heart. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you any areas of disobedience in your life. If there are not any, do not exhale just yet. Ask the Spirit to show you the reasons behind your obedience. What supports your commitment to God’s will? If it is because committing yourself to His will brings you joy, then would a season of malcontent compromise that commitment? Would feeling burned out or a lack of compassion?
May you remain despite all tests of faithfulness. As it says in James 1:2-3 &12, may the Lord grant you an increased capacity to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance…Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” May you be secure in your love for your Savior and in the belief that you are reaping a great reward up in heaven. May you remain if and whenever you find yourself in your own dark place of silence.
By Courtney Faulk