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The Mystery of Mother Theresa

She has become a symbol of service and charity. Even in life, she was already an archetype as one of the most selfless people of her time, all in the name of God.

Which is why, it was such a shock that years after her death, letters were made public that Mother Theresa did not feel God in her life. She wrote about a “darkness” and a “dryness” and at times comparing her life to a living hell and doubting the very existence of the God she claimed to have publicly served.

It was a startling revelation. Mother Theresa had become the embodied idea of serving God. But for decades, and maybe even up until her death, she struggled with her faith in this God she publicly professed to love and serve.

She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, and in her acceptance speech, she said,

“Christ is everywhere–“Christ in our hearts, Christ in the poor we meet, Christ in the smile we give and in the smile that we receive.”

But three weeks earlier, she wrote to Rev. Michael Van der Peet:

“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–the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak … I want you to pray for me–that I let Him have [a] free hand.”

The differences about her feelings on Jesus in these two statements blew my mind a little. It fascinated me to no end when I found out about these letters.

I learned about these letters and her aching heart of doubt and uncertainty about three years into my own crisis of faith, when I learned details about my beloved Mormon church that were incredibly difficult for me to hear. When I spiraled down my own rabbit hole of doubt and uncertainty about my own connection and clarity about God.

Seeing such a venerated woman of God exposed in such a real and vulnerable way broke my own heart open even more. I thought of the way she has been enshrined and memorialized over the years. Held up as a supreme example of faith in a God that expects so much of His believers. She spent her entire life living among the poorest of the poor in the name of God.

But secretly, her heart was empty and God did not speak to her. She lived in ‘silence and emptiness so great.’

I know that silence. That emptiness. I have experienced what that feels like. Once I leaned toward what I felt was the voice of God, telling me the church I belonged to, the one where my roots were 7 generations deep on either side was not the right place for me anymore, that silence and emptiness of the Mormon church grew inside me.

I know what it is like to be a part of something, professing in public that you are here because God asked you to be here, but in your deepest of hearts, you doubt that is the truth. That silence and emptiness almost broke me.

I did it in small waves and steps, but I eventually let the path of leaving Mormonism be the one for me. The further I went down that path, seeking my own spiritual sovereignty and connection to God, the emptiness and silence I felt in the walls and doctrines of Mormonism lessened. I was able to look at the pieces from my foundational faith and recognize what was still right and whole and good for me.

The new path I was forging for myself had more light and answers for me than the faith of my childhood. I was shocked at first. I had been told my whole life that if I left the path of being a Mormon, nothing but darkness and sin and trouble would follow me around.

But away from that Mormon path, I found even more light and more love and even a greater understanding of what God’s love can actually be. What God’s love can do. How God’s love is all of us.

I learned I didn’t even need to use the word “God.” A Light and Source and Divinity beyond a small definition of what our human minds try to give to such power and truth doesn’t need a gender or form.

Which is why I see God everywhere. In the wild dandelions in my backyard. In the first frost in October. In the face of a grieving mother who just lost her beautiful, black, son to a routine traffic stop.

I see God in the complexity of being in a partnership with a man who doesn’t always believe the same things I do. I see God in relationships that are more valuable than dogma, beliefs, money or past offenses.

So when I read about those very real and personal doubts Mother Theresa experienced, my heart and soul went out to her and her struggle. I wonder if she could do it all again, if she would step away from Catholicism? I wonder if the rigid dogma of her religion caused that emptiness?

What if she had the freedom to pursue God and her connection to the Divine on her own terms? Without the habit. Without the expectations.

I wonder if she would have stepped away for a season if she would’ve felt that closeness to God she was yearning for AND happily dedicate her life to the poor and needy.

I wonder so many things.

Curious heart. Open mind.


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