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The Dark Night of Mother Theresa's Soul

John Fletcher


[COMMENT:  Wow!  This is a stunner.  It reminds me of St. Emmanuel by the Spanish author, Unamuno, and also of a Pastor Trochme who valiantly saved Jews during the Nazi occupation of France, but lost his faith by the end of the war.  

But that emptiness is something many, many Christians wrestle with, including myself for a long period of my life.  But God has been faithful to draw me through that into a much fuller and richer spiritual life with an ever growing peaceful certainty of His presence in my life.  

It is deeply sad that none of Mother Theresa's spiritual advisors were able to help her with her sense of emptiness. It may that someone who understood inner healing could have helped her break through the blocks to her perceiving the presence of God in her life personally. 

This bit of news explains the sense I had whenever I saw a picture of Mother Theresa, that she had a deep sorrow.  Even when she smiled, there was a darkness behind the smile.

John Fischer notes those who more or less mock Mother Theresa and Christianity in general.  The ability to know that one lives in the presence of God is central to the Christian faith.  It is astonishing that she was able to live her life so long and so devotedly with that absence.  With many of us, that sort of emptiness arises out of the kind of early parenting we had. 

In my case it was two very well-meaning parents who raised me by a book they had bought, which said that one picks up an infant only at specific hours, not when the child cries.  That, of course, makes no sense to the child, who begins to believe that mom and dad are not there "for him", as we say.  The lesson I learned, and spent most of my life unlearning, was that I was "on my own".  It was a very tragic lesson which greatly affected my marriage and the raising of my own children.   But if we know that God has us right where we need to be to do our growing, every situation, no matter how dark it seems, becomes a potential for growth and healing.  Today I can testify to the wonderfully growing light at the end of the tunnel.     E. Fox]


By John Fischer

Cultivating a Faith without Feelings

We should not be surprised. Mother Teresa’s life and ministry was always a stark contrast to the prevailing Western culture that embraced her as its unlikely spiritual icon. So shouldn’t it also be true that in her recent spiritual autopsy, the torment of her soul would be uncovered? Apparently nowhere can we find a soft spot in this woman’s faith. In a world where feelings are the predominant measure of personal worth, Teresa learned to believe without them.

In the book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, some pretty shocking secrets about the “Saint of the Gutters” are exposed. A lifetime of doubt is revealed in letter after letter to her closest spiritual advisors.  For her, Christ was everywhere except in her heart. Thus her love for Christ compelled her outward, where she found Him, rather than inward, where she knew only His absence.

Where is my Faith—even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness—My God—how painful is this unknown pain—I have no Faith.

Jesus has a very special love for you. [But] as for me—The silence and the emptiness is so great—that I look and do not see—Listen and do not hear.

For atheists and anti-Catholics alike, these confessions provide opportunity for a certain amount of gloating. Atheists can say, “See, even your most revered believer was admittedly deluding herself. This only confirms that religion is nothing but a human fabrication.” And anti-Catholic Christians can skewer her on being a works-oriented saint who never found the inner fulfillment of her own faith because of faulty theology. But these conclusions are much too simple and shallow, and they do not take into account the totality of her life, and the deeper manifestations of joy she was able to experience in her faithfulness.

Further investigation reveals a woman whose determination to believe in spite of what she felt carried her through the dark night of the soul in a night that never saw the dawn. Mother Teresa finally concluded that this emptiness was a part of her cross to bear. Jesus told Thomas, who doubted His resurrection until he saw, heard, and touched the risen Savior, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

I wonder, in light of the demands of our current pleasure-oriented culture, if this could also mean, “Blessed are those who believe without feeling?” If so, then Mother Teresa was truly the patron saint of faith without feelings.

As evangelicals, feelings have come to play a major role in the spirituality we espouse. We talk about accepting Christ as our personal Savior, and that manifests itself in feelings of fulfillment, joy, forgiveness, and satisfaction. We go to church and focus on a style of worship that has everything to do with feelings and nothing much else. That is why music is so central to our understanding of worship today, because music touches our feelings, and contemporary music especially gets us where we are used to being moved by the music of our culture. If you go home from church having not felt close to God, church—or at least worship—was a failure.

And what about the volumes of self-help Christian books all geared towards expanding the inner life? How about all those sermons and seminars that deal with personal growth, daily devotion, and spiritual formation? How would Mother Teresa have related to these things? It appears that she would have found them empty. Not that she wouldn’t have tried—God knows that she did—but the trying would not have yielded fruitful results. “Tell me, Father, why is there so much pain and darkness in my soul?” she wrote. How long would you want to stare into that?

Imagine spending your whole life in the dark underbelly of the poorest, most diseased areas of the world, holding, bathing, and caring for the least desirable of people, and not having any sense of God communing with you in your private moments. I can’t imagine what made her tick, unless she found a certain identification with Christ in His own loneliness and darkness of soul—“Father, why have you forsaken me?”

Indeed something of this made its way into her writings:

For the first time in years—I have come to love the darkness—for I believe now that it is part of a very, very small part of Jesus’ darkness & pain on earth. You have taught me to accept it [as] a ‘spiritual side of your work’ as you wrote—Today really I felt a deep joy—that Jesus can’t go anymore through the agony—but that He wants to go through it in me.

I just have the joy of having nothing—not even the reality of the Presence of God. I accept not in my feelings—but with my will, the Will of God—I accept His will.

What does it mean to accept the will of God with your will and not your feelings? I don’t know exactly, but I think this is an eloquent expression of what the so-called spirituality of today is lacking. My guess is that it has something to do with accepting the will of God and doing it regardless of what you feel like.

Could it be that God left Mother Teresa empty inside in order to drive her outside of herself to find Him in the needs of others? Whether or not this is a valid explanation of God’s will for her, I believe it is a valid expression of where we need to go now as His church. We have been focused for too long on our own spiritual navels. Time to leave our souls to the One who made us, and seek Him in those around us who need help and love.

“Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

It was a long, dark night for the soul of Mother Teresa—close to a half a century—but joy does come with the morning, and there are morning stars all gathered around her now, dancing for joy.

John Fischer is a freelance writer, speaker and singer who resides in southern California. His free daily devotional email is available at www.fischtank.com.

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