Dying of Thirst
If you make a list of people close to God, Mother Teresa of Calcutta has to be close to the top of the list. An Albanian nun, Mother Teresa became an international symbol of Christian charity because she devoted her whole life to working in the worst slums of Calcutta, India, caring for those no one else in the world cared for. Mother Teresa is held up even by people of no faith as a saint, someone especially good. Christians see her as someone to be imitated, a high bar few of us will ever attain. If there is anyone who is close to God, it is Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Which is why, when her memoirs were published after her death, the world was shocked to learn that Mother Teresa didn’t feel close to God.
In her letters and journals, we find long stretches – years and decades – where Mother Teresa didn’t feel God at all.
In one letter to a spiritual mentor, she wrote:
I am longing—with a painful longing to be all for God—to be holy in such a way that Jesus can live His life to the full in me. The more I want Him—the less I am wanted.—I want to love Him as He has not been loved—and yet there is that separation—that terrible emptiness, that feeling of absence of God. — Mother Teresa
Can you imagine? Mother Teresa, that giant of a saint, confessing she feels a deep absence where she once felt God? Mother Teresa, describing her longing almost as an unquenchable thirst, the oasis of God’s presence always just over the horizon.
After the shock of her words wore off, many have found comfort in Mother Teresa’s honest confession. Because most of us know exactly what she’s describing. Most of us have felt God’s absence acutely. We’ve experienced times where we felt like we were wandering in a desert, where we reached out for some sort of comfort and felt… nothing. A void. An absence. A lack of God’s presence.
Let’s talk about those wilderness times, those times we’re thirsty for comfort, for relief and we wonder, Where is God? There’s a faith that runs deeper than feelings, a faith centered not on whether we can sense God’s presence or not, but a faith that grows out of confidence in God’s character and commitment to God’s call.