By now there is a good chance you have heard the recent article in Time magazine about Mother Teresa entitled “Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith.” When I first saw the title I laughed, thinking that some editor or headline writer had come up with a clever title to sell magazines. Doubt, just like sex, sells.
As I began reading I was surprised at the statements attributed to Mother Teresa. It gets your attention when she says, “Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.” There are other references to how she described her heart with words like “dryness,” “darkness,” “loneliness” and “torture.”
The piece in Time was based on a new book about Mother Teresa entitled, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light edited by Brian Kolodiejchuk. The book consists primarily of correspondence between Mother Teresa and her spiritual advisors over a period of more than 60 years. She had asked that the letters be destroyed, a request that was refused by the church.
So now the whole world knows that for the last fifty years this respected woman “felt no presence of God whatsoever.”
“Neither in her heart or in the eucharist.”
My first reaction to all of this was, as I suggested, surprise. Anger quickly followed. Why were Mother Teresa’s expressed wishes that the letters be destroyed overruled? Why would anyone to whom she has poured out her heart even once, let alone over a period of 60 years, betray her confidence and reveal her innermost secrets? A cynical response might be to suggest that greed led to this publication that is no doubt making someone some money. Even more cynical is the suggestion that someone wanted to destroy Mother Teresa posthumously.
But hope follows surprise and anger. Think of how the publication of this correspondence and the revelation of Mother Teresa’s doubts could touch tender hearts. How many people had come to believe in a super-human Mother Teresa? Now we are reminded she was one of us. And that removes any excuse we may have invented to justify our lack of doing something to bring about justice and relieve suffering. No more excuses – she was one of us. And how many people have hearts that are torn by guilt produced from their own doubt? Resultant feelings of unworthiness are often paralyzing. But Mother Teresa’s life provides us with hope in the midst of doubt.
So what do you do when you are plagued by doubts? If you are one who has wrestled with doubts, may I suggest a couple of things. First, my friend and mentor Lynn Anderson has written a book that may encourage you: If I Really Believe, Why Do I Have These Doubts.
Second, I want to share with you one of my all-time favorite quotes, from Frederick Buechner’s book Wishful Thinking A Theological ABC: “Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have doubts you are either kidding yourself or you are asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it alive and moving.”
Could it be, that doubt was what kept her “alive and moving” as she ministered in Calcutta?