9.25.07 from the refuge blog…we're in good company

when you think of mother teresa, what words come to mind? for me, i think of “poured out, deeply connected to God, amazingly humble, willing heart, in love with Jesus, filled up. sacrificial love” among many others. i am pretty sure “doubter of God”, “overwhelmed with emptiness”, or “tired of never getting His help the way she wanted” were not words i would have used to describe her. it’s sort of old news, but the recent release of mother teresa’s private letters has been rumbling around Christian & nonChristian circles in the past few months. I heard the story earlier this year, that during her decades of ministry she only had a few good weeks where she really felt it. the rest of her journey she didn’t feel God the way she longed to and experienced deep spiritual dryness that was agonizing.

here are some of the things she said to a trusted confidante:

“The more I want him — the less I am wanted”…..”Such deep longing for God — and … repulsed — empty — no faith — no love — no zeal. — [The saving of] Souls holds no attraction — Heaven means nothing — pray for me please that I keep smiling at Him in spite of everything.”

and in some private letters to Jesus:

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?

the question is, does this comfort you or freak you out? i think for me, it’s a combination of both. it is so comforting to know that i am not alone in the darkness, that someone far more spiritual & powerful & poured out for God than me doubted just as much (maybe even more!) than I sometimes do. when i doubt, which is often, i hear this ugly little voice in my head that says “you loser, you have been a Christian for a long time and look where it’s gotten you. if you had more faith, you wouldn’t be in such a crappy spot. if you just bore down on the scriptures & started praying harder you wouldn’t be here to begin with. you must be doing something wrong to feel so disconnected from God. what do you need to confess or pray against so the bad feeling will go away?” i could go on and on, it’s all a little psycho inside my head when this starts to happen. i think if most of us are honest, we all have these sorts of thoughts to one degree or another (i think those of us who were trained in the evangelical-think-truth-and-then-it-will-become-your-reality strains have a greater degree of shame when we doubt). or maybe i’m the only one and you are all saying behind my back “what is kathy’s problem?” (yeah, that’s my next psycho thought after the first round…)

what is interesting to me about mother teresa, one of the most revered and beloved spiritual women of this century, is that she didn’t share these thoughts publically. they were in private letters. her interior world and her outside persona were two different things. i understand and respect her dilemma, and we do not have to go around sharing all of our private moments with God with everyone we meet. at the same time, it made me wonder why she was afraid to be more honest in public—would her ministry have been questioned? would she get reprimanded by the powers that be above her and encouraged to get her spiritual act together fast? would she have lost some of her following? i have no idea and because she’s so revered i feel a little guilty even questioning any of her motives, but i guess i am just questioning why her outside & inside had to look so different?

the heartbeat of the refuge is real authenticity, our outside & our inside being integrated. that means we say some of the crazy things rattling around in our head which can sometimes be quite unsettling. and we do this even though we are pretty certain that people (especially Christians) like positives! what sells are results—10 steps to this and 8 simple ways to that. the power of positive thinking, praying, living, eating, you name it. all of these things will get you reconnected to God in no time. no one likes to focus on the negative. i don’t, either. but i do like to focus on the truth. and the truth is that sometimes i am mad, tired, and wondering when-the-hell-i-am-going-to-hear-from-God-so-i-can-feel-better. and despite my doubts, i do believe Jesus came to bring us life, real life, a depth & fulfillment in ways that are sometimes so unexplainable. but i am trying to learn to embrace that real life, real relationship doesn’t mean that i never doubt, wonder, question, get angry, or feel like walking away. in fact, ingredients of real intimacy with God (and people) include all of those things. what i like about mother teresa’s journey is that even though she doubted, questioned, shook her fist, cried out, and sometimes wanted to walk away she did actually stay in. she kept pouring her heart out to God and lived out her passion for the poor & unloved as best she could. she didn’t lay down and die. she didn’t disconnect from life & community completely. she didn’t run the other way. she stayed in.

at the refuge, sometimes it is so clear that life gets harder than we hoped. we long for the easy road, some kind of escape, a short cut, some way to feel better quick. i believe wholeheartedly that Jesus and the crazy unexplainable movement of his spirit in our lives is the answer. but i guess i am reminded today that it doesn’t come quick, it doesn’t come easy and we are in good company with the saints when we doubt, question, and aren’t feeling him like we so desperately long for. i guess what i hope for me—and for all of us—is that we keep staying in.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

One Comment

  • Here’s my thought on why she had a public and private self. The church was her job. I feel like I have to mask certain things in order to make them palatable for my employer. I feel I’m not good enough at my job to say…I hate programming. When I feel substandard at something, I approach it with enthusiasm, because often enthusiasm makes up for lack of talent.

    Probably the Catholic Church was not as touchy feely as the Refuge about inner turmoil and questioning. At least history has shown that.


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