We have known for some years now that Mother Teresa experienced the pain of deep spiritual darkness and turmoil in her heart for some years. We did not know just how deep, painful and long this darkness really was. Now we have been provided a glimpse into the soul of this remarkable woman in a new book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday), a collection of her private correspondence over the course of sixty-six years of her life.

In a letter of September 1979 she wrote to Rev. 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." She added, "The tongue moves

[in prayer] but does not speak . . . I want you to pray for me—that I let Him have [a] free hand." When you contrast this with her public statements about seeing Christ in every person and circumstance, and then you see the film on her life that I reviewed here just a few months ago, you realize afresh that this was not a plastic saint who lived in some type of ecstatic experience day-in and day-out. She experienced, and lived through, what the church has called darkness, or spiritual desertion, for many, many years.

Critics will have a field day with this material. Skeptics and unbelievers will see such contradiction here that they will, and already have, questioned the value of Christian faith at all. Fundamentalists will say, "This shows she didn’t even know God in the first place." Easy answers will avail for such people.

Mother Teressa had deep encounters with Christ, as this autobiography will clearly show. Her confessor, Father Celeste Van Exem, was convinced of her genuineness and believed that her witness to Christ’s grace and love to her was stunning and powerful. But her autobiography, reports today now tell us, brings our a sense of frequent desperation and confusion. Those who have seen it say that it seems to read almost a story of how God lifted her up, gave her a call, equipped her to love and serve in a rare way, and then withdrew his felt presence and her sense of him so that she would learn to trust God in a unique way. One can wonder if this "thorn in the flesh" was given so that she would remain humble and powerful, fearless and faithful. 

Some believe this new book will become a "classic" almost like St. Augustine’s Confessions. Time will tell. What I think it will likely do is allow ordinary people to better understand that great Christians also have dark and difficult times in their lives. So unlike many moderns this little lady lived and died by showing us Jesus and not herself. This was her wish. These posthumous writings may prove to be a blessing that we all need. I look forward to reading them as soon as possible. I sense my need of these letters is great.

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  1. Helen August 24, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    Not that I’m an expert on such things: but it sounds to me like she was depressed.
    I feel sad for her that her situation was not such that she or others could think of her unhappiness as depression, which meant she was precluded from being offered the treatment that is offered to depressed people, once diagnosed.
    Instead she lived with the question of why Jesus was inexplicably withholding his presence from her – and yet she was loyal to him. Which I would say makes her a saint (using that word in the traditional way, not the evangelical way) as much as anything else she did.

  2. Gene Redlin August 24, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    Any Christian who has walked and served Jesus very long goes thru what I read in this post. Depressed? No, more likely faced with the reality of who she really was. I have often come face to face with who I am in my flesh and how far afield from the calling on my life I really am.
    If we really saw ourselves uncovered by the blood of Jesus in all our falleness (no matter how wonderful we think we are) we would be shocked, grieved and distressed in our sin.
    It would also cause us to grasp the cross of Christ and repent of anything other than who we are in Jesus and more important who he is in us.
    I wish I had the passion and transparency Mother Theresa had. I pray for it.
    We soon discover that we are dirty filthy rags in our own righteousness and we come to grips with the incredible sinfulness of our sin and the enormous price Jesus paid to present us clean before the Father.
    That would depress anyone from time to time. It does me.

  3. Helen August 24, 2007 at 4:56 pm

    Gene, I was basing my comments on the TIME article as well as what John wrote.
    Here’s a prayer from it:
    “Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? The Child of your Love — and now become as the most hated one — the one — You have thrown away as unwanted — unloved. I call, I cling, I want — and there is no One to answer — no One on Whom I can cling — no, No One. — Alone … 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 — I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart — & make me suffer untold agony.
    So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them — because of the blasphemy — If there be God — please forgive me — When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven — there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul. — I am told God loves me — and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?”
    — addressed to Jesus, at the suggestion of a confessor, undated
    From someone’s files:
    “What tortures of loneliness,” she wrote. “I wonder how long will my heart suffer this?”
    In March 1953, in a letter:
    “Please pray specially for me that I may not spoil His work and that Our Lord may show Himself — for there is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead. It has been like this more or less from the time I started ‘the work.'”
    Based on these excerpts it doesn’t seem to me that Mother Theresa’s distress was based on how sinful she was.

  4. John H. Armstrong August 25, 2007 at 11:17 am

    Do not forget that there is always real mystery to be experienced by those who are often very close to Christ and his sufferings. We seem to have no room for this in the scientific modern age.
    I am totally for treating depression medically and I also believe there are realms of experience that cannot be reduced to depression alone.
    I also do not think we experience abandonments from God’s presence only because of our sin.
    The Psalter is my guide and it plumbs the depths on all of this discussion I am quite sure. We need to consider all of this in light of the happy-go-lucky easy way we tell people it is sweet to follow Jesus.

  5. Helen August 25, 2007 at 12:46 pm

    John, I understand what you’re saying. I would like Christians to consider depression as a possible contributing factor to sadness and loneliness. However I wouldn’t expect them to consider the spiritual mystery of God’s absence reducible to a diagnosis of depression.

  6. Andrew Martin August 25, 2007 at 2:04 pm

    What a wonderful testimony to God’s saving grace on her life! Her darkness all the more points to the true light that has come into the world. Amen
    your friend in Christ,
    Andrew Martin
    Author of “Crossing the Red Sea”

  7. iggy August 26, 2007 at 3:02 am

    Interestingly, St. John of the Cross stated that when you see the Light it is not in its purest form… it is infused with dust and particles…. yet, when one experiences pure Light they cannot see it… it has not sense of presence…
    In those dark times I think we may be closer to God than when we see and sense God. Sometimes I notice in my own walk as I “feel” that I cannot see or hear from God, it is then I lean on Him more for strength. It is often much later I see what God did… I see His signature though I did not see His hand at the time.

  8. Sola Fide August 27, 2007 at 1:50 pm

    I was wondering how this fits in your assessment in ‘A View of Rome’! Is this a different John Armstrong?? Something seems to have changed in 12 years!

  9. John H. Armstrong August 27, 2007 at 10:34 pm

    Some minor things have changed but the basic arguments of the book are still arguments I agree with. The book was never an attack on Roman Catholics as Christians or an anti-Catholic book.
    If you want a specific answer I might be able to give it but my general response is that I am a Reformed Protestant who still believes Rome holds to some doctrines that are sub-biblical and thus wrong. At the same time there is much that we agree with Catholic Christians about and should say so wherever possible. John 17 remains true regardless.
    This line of truth and love is hard to follow for any sectarian position on either side, Catholic or Protestant.

  10. sandy August 29, 2007 at 1:02 pm

    The Bible is full of laments and anguish. The Psalmist grappled with questions of God’s Sovereignty. Job felt completely abandoned. Joseph’s prayers were unanswered for many years. Even Jesus cried out, “Eloi, eloi lama sabachthani.”
    I believe everyone goes through darkness, plagued by doubts and feeling that God is silent. I don’t really have a clear answer why God sometimes leaves us in the valley of the shadow of death.
    Maybe it is so we can come closer to understanding the terrible need we have for God in our lives, (and in turn be a more effective witness to others.) Maybe it is because God wants us to understand the loving pain of Jesus, who was forsaken on the cross so that we can be forgiven.
    Until we get to Heaven, we’ll never know the answers to everything, but I do believe Jesus will always deliver us from our spiritual and physical suffering.

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