what I’m reading: Her Agony (Time Magazine)


Category : God, Mother Teresa, faith, feeding my brain, love, trust


Most days I set out with some kind of intentionality behind what I read.  But occasionally I come across something by chance.  And that’s how it was for Her Agony

I had been eating lunch with a friend, when the topic of Mother Teresa came up.  (Up to that day I probably had a total of one other conversations regarding Mother Teresa.)  At any rate, my friend mentioned that Mother Teresa had gone most of her life without feeling the direct presence of God (outside of a very intense period at the beginning of her ministry).  I didn’t know a whole lot about Mother Teresa, so I found that both interesting and encouraging.  Ironically, within a week the  media “broke” the story of Mother Teresa’s intense feelings of isolation. And her “secret” letters. 

Naturally I was curious, but not curious enough to investigate outside of what I ‘heard’ on the news.  I was busy and didn’t think it would have any direct application to me.  It felt like just another attempt to tear down someone who had done good things.  But, as luck would have it, I came across a copy of Time at work.  Sometimes you choose the book, other times the book, er magazine, chooses you!   

While it was publicly known that Mother Teresa felt separated from God, a new book Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light outlines just how deep her sense of separation went.  My first reaction to this news was “isn’t that common knowledge?”  Followed by a bit of nervousness at the prospect of a great icon of Christianity leading a dual life. 

I admit to being skeptical about Time and it’s presentation of difficult religious conversations.  But the article does a good job of presenting both the Christian and the secular view of Mother Teresa’s plight. It really captures the depth of her struggles and suggests what those struggles mean to a Christian. Of course it also leaves open the possibility of secular (read: God doesn’t exist) interpretations.  But that’s okay, because I’m interested in the truth, not something simply to make me feel good.

The article itself is striking and conveys how deep her pain must have been.  But one part in particular stood out.  The book’s author said, “[Mother Teresa] was a very strong personality, and a strong personality needs stronger purification [to cure their pride].”  This is something I can identify with.  It’s also a theme you see repeatedly in the Bible.  Paul, one of the great evangelists of the early church, talked about his “thorn” and how God told him his Grace was sufficient.  Sometimes people who are working in the midst of great miracles need an extra helping of humility.  When you are surrounded by God, it is very easy to lose sight of who’s really doing all the heavy lifting in your life. 

Some will look at this book as proof that God does not exist.  But I have to disagree.  I believe God treats each of us according to our own needs, that he interacts with us in ways that match our personalities.  And I think for whatever reason Mother Teresa needed to go through this experience.  Sometimes walking with God does not take you down an idyllic path.

Despite that, I don’t know why Mother Teresa felt as if God were absent from her life.  Perhaps it was to keep her humble.  Perhaps it was her own doing.  Perhaps it was a little of both.  But what I do know is that she acted on her belief in God despite not feeling God’s presence.  And that should be a lesson to us.  When we feel this need to be perfect in our faith, (because otherwise we aren’t “good” Christians) we need to remember that Mother Teresa starkly contrasts this idea.  By learning she wasn’t perfect it makes our own struggles with our own faith seem more manageable.  If someone so remarkable as Mother Teresa struggled with her faith, then maybe my struggles aren’t so dark.

Upon reflecting on this article I have to wonder: wouldn’t it be just like God to use Mother Teresa’s personal suffering to reach, and teach, millions of people well after her death?  Wouldn’t it be just like God that her greatest struggle is what will give the greatest hope to millions of people.  Sounds like it to me…

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