August 27, 2007
Much has been made of the recently published letters describing Mother Teresa’s struggle with faith.
Atheists gravely note Mother Teresa’s ‘loss of faith.‘
Taking note of the letter two years ago, Catholics spoke of her ‘hunger for God’
Mother Teresa did not ‘lose faith.’ She did not ‘hunger for God’ as if she was being deprived of Godly sustenance.
Mother Teresa struggled with herself. She assumed for herself the kind of struggle that only serves to elevate believers.
Firstly, to be human, by definition, is to be something other than God. That means that we cannot be expected to always understand God or His intent. By design, God may exclude or preclude us from ever ‘getting it.’ That includes Mother Teresa.When we accept our ‘humaness,’ we are accepting our imperfections. As humans, we are not blessed with perfection. We are blessed with something far greater- free will. And, we are blessed with doubt.
Doubt is indeed a blessing, perhaps the greatest of God’s gifts to His Creation, because every time we overcome that doubt and behave in a way that honors God, we have chosen to honor both Him and us. Only those that have experienced darkness can experience and appreciate light and the ability to see both the beauty and the dangers of our surroundings. In fact, if we do not acknowledge that darkness even exists, we can never see and appreciate the light.
We are supposed to struggle with faith and even tire of the struggle. It is the burden of that struggle that makes us whole and makes us complete. When we experience the doubt, the pain, and the despair of our search for God and meaning, we are not in violation of spirituality- just the opposite, really. When we are dealing with our doubts and pains, we begin to approach the final spirituality of acceptance.
The acceptance of ourselves, our limitations and insights, often comes after great pain and weeping. In a way, that weeping is a kind of window into wisdom- we are able to see ourselves for who we are and where we belong. These are cathartic moments, rare in life.
We can choose to submit and refer to the pain and the struggle as an ‘affliction of love,’ and thus hide the true nature of the pain and doubt, or, we can accept the pain and doubt for what they really are- adversaries that we must struggle with and overcome. We are given an opportunity to conquer, every day.
Spirituality is not spectacular. In fact it is mundane for the most part. John Paul II was not an imperious pope, but rather, an everyman with a past, who showed us what was possible. Therein was his greatness. He never said, “Look at me, in my robes of glory!” He never said, “Follow me and I will show you the way!”
Instead, he said to the tens of thousands that came to worship with him, “I love you, too!” as they loudly professed their affection. He was with them and of them. He always reminded them that God loved them, but in the end, it was his identification with his flock that made him so beloved. He was one of them- and knew that they must engage and struggle with faith, as all believers do. There are no shortcuts. John Paul II was of course, in good company. History has shown that God has chosen rather mundane and very ordinary people to speak on his behalf- and being rather mundane and ordinary, many were rather unenthusiastic with the prospect- not because they doubted God, but rather, they doubted their own worthiness. Why? Because we are human beings and not spiritual beings. We are meant to struggle ideas and concepts that cannot be corralled by mere words.
In our humaness, we are clothed with finite attire- we cannot divine the mind of God. When we demand absolutely certain truth, we are attempting to play God. We may believe that there are absolute truths, but in fact, we are bound by our understanding at the moment. Scientific truths alter as our understanding alters.
If we presume we can understand the ‘absolute truth’ about God, we are destined to fail in our desire to know God and to accept God as God. The ‘absolute truth’ about God changes as we come to understand ourselves, our world and even others.
That ‘absolute truth’ can never be corralled or understood because only God is ‘absolute.’ As humans, we are the opposite of absolute. We can be ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ we can be ‘more’ or ‘less.’ For us to exist as God’s creations, we must know joy and we must know suffering. We need to succeed and we also need to fail. We are meant to be less than perfect, because it is through our imperfections that we find ourselves and our potential.
God treasures our spiritual achievements. He treasures our failures along the way even more, because in facing and overcoming our failures, we have shown that we are indeed worthy of the humanity He bestowed upon us. We are not meant to become perfect in our struggle and search for meaning and faith- we are meant to overcome the limitations, imperfections and obstacles along the way.
Mother Teresa’s struggles with faith are not defined by the letters she wrote to her confessors. Rather, her struggle with faith is defined by the good works and deeds she accomplished over a lifetime.
Relating to God is about relating to that most human side of ourselves.
It has often been noted that ‘the greater the faith, the greater the struggle.’ We have often noted that we are measured by what we build and not by what we destroy or fail to build. What mighty lessons we can learn from Mother Teresa’s struggles.
Portions of this post have been previously published.