I’ve just finished reading the new book Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. I first read about it in a pre-release Time Magazine article full of titillating thoughts about Mother Teresa’s lack of faith. I’m sure it increased sales of this special book for which I am thankful.
The book exposes the story behind the story of Mother Teresa’s deep faith and stalwart obedience. Before this book was released, only a handful of her confessors knew about the deep challenges and grave sufferings she bore in her soul. I’m sure the nuns who worked with her and followed her devotion to God’s call on her life have been greatly blessed by learning the truths their personal friend and leader never told them during her lifetime. I know I have.
Rather than a book that brings up doubts about the existence of God, it is a book that describes a unique life and a peculiar walk of intimacy with Him. In several letters written to her spiritual directors, preserved against her wishes, she describes the darkness that existed in her soul from the time she began the work of the Missionaries of Charity until presumably her death in 1997. I believe that Mother Teresa’s experience of darkness in her soul for a period of over fifty years is certainly unique. I don’t know of any other spiritual writer who has spoken of a dark night (a sense of the absence of God after having felt and known great union with Him) lasting so long. Most every spiritual writer describes a sense of loss of God’s presence as a tool for building great faith.
Throughout most of her suffering Mother Teresa came to understand the darkness as a unique way she experienced God in her life—feeling the total abandonment Jesus Himself experienced on the cross. Although a humble woman she was quoted as saying, “If I ever become a saint — I will surely be one of darkness. I will continually be absent from heaven — to light the light of those in darkness on earth.” There was one letter in which she expressed the doubt from feeling hypocritical since she was not experiencing the love and presence of God the way the nuns she served with did.
Each of our spiritual journeys is quite different. I do not think that I have experienced a true dark night of the soul, although I have grown in faith during periods when God seemed to be hiding Himself from me. It is the rare person whom God would allow to face such a prolonged period of feeling His absence, but in the case of Mother Teresa, God’s dealing with her obviously helped make her the leader He needed her to be.
All people of great faith have grown in faith from periods of great doubt. I love the way Paul describes Abraham’s faith in Romans 4:18:
“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him.”
Faith is hoping against all hope. Faith becomes stronger when there is great cause to doubt.