Monday, September 03, 2007

Mother Teresa - Doubt, Devout & Depressed

Mother Teresa is in the news again. This time, it's her doubt. Mother Teresa's journey to fame and depression started with a prophetic call from Jesus. Shortly after following God's calling to serve the poor of Calcutta, she entered into depression and ceased to hear God's voice for nearly 50 years. She wrote letters to friends about her pain and her difficulty hearing God's voice. She wrote to her friend Michael Van Der Peet, "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."

I want to share 3 thoughts:

1) People who hear God's voice often go through periods of difficulty where they can't hear. This is normal and should be expected. People in the world act like Christians shouldn't struggle. The truth is that everyone struggles. In fact, the more powerful your vision, the more significant your challenge, the more you will struggle.

2) Don't judge a Christian by the things they confess to their closest friends. We all need a friend to whom we can confess our feelings and perceptions--especially those that are ugly, difficult or seemingly contradictory. That's a part of who we are, but it's not the whole story. I once read a blog article about a guy who visited a German spa where everyone was naked. His assessment was that most people look better with their clothes on. Reading someone's journal entries, or their letters to a prayer partner, is like looking at a person who is naked. It may be true, but it isn't a complete picture of a person's life. The clothes a person wears tells you more about their personality, thoughts and values. Jesus said that you can tell a tree by it's fruit. Mother Teresa was mighty fruitful! To discredit her fruit because she had times of difficult honesty is unrealistically immature. Her struggles, though true, are merely one tree in the vast landscape of her life.

3) God speaks, but he doesn't always speak when or how we want him to. For our part, we often create obstacles to our own ability to hear. There have been times when I was overworked and horribly depressed. I've found in those times that it is very hard (nearly impossible) to hear God's voice. There is an irony to those times. The truth is that God speaks during those times--but not necessarily on the topics that I'm most interested in. Sometimes it's because God has already spoken on the topics and I just didn't hear what I wanted. Other times it was because I was too exhausted. Mother Teresa was an exhausted person. She didn't leave a lot of time to relax. In fact, in spite of the grace she showed the poor of Calcutta, she didn't have very much grace for herself or for her co-laborers. She was so purpose driven to serve God selflessly that she missed a big part of the Gospel--Grace! Mother Teresa needed a long vacation and, probably, an antidepressant. But, she couldn't allow these liberties in her life. I saw a documentary on her life, where her charity was given a building in New York City. The building had new industrial carpet in it (which works well in chilly New York), but Mother Teresa tore it out and declared it to be an unnecessary luxury. She also ran into trouble with New York state officials because the law required an elevator in the building. Mother Teresa wouldn't have the building, if it contained an elevator. To Mother Teresa an unnecessary luxury was viewed as an EVIL luxury. She valued simplicity so highly that normal comforts were viewed as sinful. For that reason, she wore sandals in the snow. Like many devout Catholics throughout history, the concept of personally inflicting suffering on oneself was seen as being spiritual. Unfortunately, it also gets in the way of us receiving God's affection--which includes hearing his voice in prayer. There is an irony in the fact that when Mother Teresa heard God's call to the poor of Calcutta, she was on a vacation that had been forced on her by her superiors. The vacation (a Sabbath) provided the space she needed to hear the voice of God. But when Mother Teresa was in charge of her own order, she wouldn't force herself to take a vacation. Sabbath is an act of faith that God values highly. Mother Teresa became a victim of her "purpose driven" life.

I'd like sum all of this up by saying that I think Mother Teresa is one of the greatest examples of leadership from the 20th century. She knew where she wanted to go, she went there with painful dedication, and her vision and purpose inspired others to follow her. I also do not think that her struggles with depression mean anything with regard to her faith. Her fruit speaks far more. Nonetheless, she failed her followers and disobeyed the Lord by not allowing more sabbath rest in her life. We get saved by grace, we have to live by grace and without grace, it's impossible to hear the voice of God.


Sarah said...

Great thoughts. Thanks for sharing that!

Unknown said...

I love Mother Teresa! and you are right I think Mother Teresa is one of the greastes examples of leadership. She is a good example of faith and like you said we all have difficult moment in our life and we feel like God is not listen to us. I love Her!