Thursday, May 02, 2013

The Fight To Stay Light, or Mother Theresa Is Alright


Now although God cast common blessings promiscuously upon good and bad (people); yet he holds his best favors at a distance, as parents do cherries or apples from their children, to whet their appetites the more after them. And indeed the best perfection of a Christian (during this earthly life), is, in desire and expectation; and it is enough to (God)... (for he knows) God’s acceptance... The soul of man is like a cipher, which is valued by that which is set before it. If it weary itself in the desire of earthly things, like the silk-worm, it finisheth its work with its own destruction. But if on things above, when this earthly tabernacle is turned to ashes, there shall result a glorious phoenix for immortality (Richard Sibbes, A Breathing After God).

A woman named Theresa, better known to us Mother Theresa, lived a publicly joyful and happy Christian life. She dogged death and disease and despair like a vengeful assassin, with hands calloused from hard fighting, with always a smile on her face. In the midst of so much brokenness, she seemed whole. In the midst of so much hopelessness, she seemed serene. She was celebrated, during her life, as an exemplar of closeness to God: she came to represent the ideal person: a life of happy sacrifice in service to God. She came to represent a saint in the sense of being far above the normal human capacity of love and holiness. All had sinned, but not her. The words "Mother Theresa" became shorthand for "good person."

My favorite Theresa story:

She was invited to speak at the 1994 prayer breakfast by then President Bill Clinton. No doubt, many would have considered this an honor, and walked on egg shells before the great man, and his assembled dignitaries. Surely, Theresa would use her speaking opportunity to strike a peaceful pose with the powers that be. Surely, she would avoid any topic that would annoy Clinton. Nope. 

She spoke up, and out, against abortion.

With words that even now bring tears to my eyes, she spoke about the blessing unborn Jesus, while still in his mother's womb, brought to his cousin: 

While still in the womb of Mary, Jesus brought peace to John the Baptist, who leapt for joy in the womb of Elizabeth... 
She was expected to speak peacefully, quietly. Instead, she declared war on the war against children:

Our children depend on us for everything: their health, their nutrition, their security, their coming to know and love God. For all of this, they look to us with trust, hope and expectation. But often father and mother are so busy that they have no time for their children, or perhaps they are not even married, or have given up on their marriage. So the children go to the streets, and get involved in drugs, or other things. We are talking of love of the child, which is where love and peace must begin. But I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child - a direct killing of the innocent child - murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? ...Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching the people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. That is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion. And for this I appeal in India and I appeal everywhere: "Let us bring the child back." The child is God's gift to the family. Each child is created in the special image and likeness of God for greater things - to love and to be loved.
After Theresa's speech, the Ballroom erupted in applause, with a standing ovation. Bill and Hillary Clinton, along with the Gore's, did not stand, or applaud. 

All this to say, Theresa is one of my favorite people. She represented moral courage in the face of immoral power. She represented spiritual riches in the face of spiritual poverty. She represented joyful boldness in the face of a cold and disapproving world. That day at the National Prayer Breakfast, she said, 

I talk so much of giving with a smile...
She gave, and fought, with a smile. And so she seemed, to all the world, a picture of steely happy courage. So she seemed.

After her death, in light of her journals, a different picture emerged. We all discovered, with a mix of disappointment and surprise, that Theresa's inner world was starkly different from her outer world; we learned of her doubts, her wrestling with God, and her anxiety over the apparent distance of God; we learned of her grief. We learned that she trudged through 50 famished years burdened by a sense of God's silence. We saw, for the first time, a frown on the face of the woman we'd only seen smile.

Unbelievers rejoiced at the unbelief of a saint; religious folk scratched their head, and questioned if Theresa was, in fact, who they thought she was: they felt duped. The press cast her journals in an entirely negative light: an anti-confession of faith. 

(That's what the press does: they bring their hopeless worldview to every event so they can snuff out every corner of light, leave us in frenzied fear, and drive us to buy more materialistic matches. News programs are, themselves, commercials: they are commercials for the commercials that come every few minutes, "Here's an important message from our sponsors.") 

We have a better guide than the godless glee of the world, the ill-informed confusion of the religious, or the doom and gloom false prophets in the press. We have God's word. 

Here are 6 considerations from God's word that will stop the mouths of unbelievers, open the mouths of the faithful, and reorient us toward God and happy hope.

1) We may pity Theresa, or feel her life was a "sad" ordeal, but that's not the counsel of the Scriptures. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Mt 5.6)." Theresa had a deep abiding hunger that nothing in this world could sate. She was starved to death for God.

She was, thus, well prepared for another country wherein God is All in All to his people. The Psalmists speak of panting after God, like a dehydrated deer (Psalm 42.1). David speaks of stumbling in the dark looking for a sliver of the light of God's face, and being concussed with a sense of God's absence (Ps 22.1-2); he laments God's seeming unwillingness even to lift a hand to help, "Why are you so far from saving me (Psalm 22.1)?" 

Sounds kinda like Theresa.

Jesus, God's very Son, once looked up to heaven and saw only a brass ceiling. In response, he lifted his voice in dismay and confusion, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me (Mt. 27.46)?" The words are moving; they are the bewildered scream of a lost child scratching in the dark for some slim answer, "Why?" 

Sounds kinda like Theresa.

Can you imagine what the heathen of the 21st century would do if they knew these things were in the Bible? They'd probably proclaim David and Jesus "skeptics" who sided with them against the Christian Church. Can you imagine what our despondent press corp would do if they knew such things were in the Bible; they'd run headlines proclaiming, "King David was an atheist!"

Theresa's struggle with God was sold as a sign, and even more a reason, for unbelief. When, in fact, such struggles as she had have always been the mark, and a reason for, belief.

Theresa sounds a lot like David, and the Lord Jesus. She sounds, in other words, just like the faithful have always sounded. 

I have a secret suspicion of the suspicious; I believe skeptics believe, not too little, but too much. I have been in some prestigious academic halls over the years, and I have been exposed to the great minds of the believing and unbelieving world. I was surprised to find, again and again, the Christians had questions; unbelievers, alone, seemed to have all the answers: often, these answers did not even particularly correspond to a question; as if, they could answer your question before you even asked; as if, your question was not worth asking. I once heard an unbeliever boast, "We question your answers." That was not my experience; my experience was, "We question your questions with our answers."

It was my Christian professors who encouraged me to ask questions I was afraid to ask. My atheistic professors were skeptical of Christianity, but it was my Christian professors who actually encouraged me to question Christianity in the sense of asking what it really taught, and daring to try and test its teaching for pure truth value. One of my Christian prof's once urged me, "You should do some research into Christianity. If it's not true, then look elsewhere." He trusted Christianity against all attackers; he cared more for truth than for getting me to join his 'side.' Another Professor would encourage unbelievers to read Bertrand Russell's "Why I am Not A Christian." 

I found Christians had all the questions, they were curious, and eager to learn; yet, they felt themselves ignorant; they had all the questions, and hardly any answers. Unbelievers, on the other hand, seemed to have all the answers, and hardly any questions. In short, believers were more like children in that they were curious, and always asking, "Why?" Unbelievers, on the other hand, were more like children in the sense of gullibility, and wide eyed naivete.

Take, for example, Richard Dawkins' recent book, The God Delusion. One is impressed, not by Dawkins' severe reasoning and unbelief, but rather, his naive optimism: not by his questions, but his multitude of answers; not by how little he believes, but rather, his belief in so many things, and in such a large and unquestioning way. He believes wild and wondrous things, things most humble Christians jut don't have the faith for. A few examples:

Like a boy who believes it is possible for a cow to burst the limits of gravity, and high jump the moon, he asserts:
I am thrilled to be alive at time when humanity is pushing against the limits of understanding. Even better, we may eventually discover that there are no limits.
I could not spin a more optimistic and credulous perspective if I tried: "we may eventually discover there are no limits." I wish I had such faith. Then, like the mischievous boy who is convincing himself that he wasn't present when the window was broken, his twists logic in a millions directions and come up with the old excuse, "I wasn't there."
Think of an experience from your childhood. Something you remember clearly, something you can see, feel, maybe even smell, as if you were really there. After all you really were there at the time, weren’t you? How else could you remember it? But here is the bombshell: you weren’t there.
When we were children, we believed our father could do everything: at times, that he was the only one who could do anything. If our father was a watchmaker, we dismissed the watchmaker next door. Dawkins is like the boy who believes his father is the one and only man in the town who ever did anything:
The only watchmaker is the blind forces of physics.
Just on the level of pure reality, this statement is absurd. I live in St. Louis, and we have a hundred watchmakers here. Like a gullible child, Dawkins makes a ridiculous and all-inclusive claim that anyone with google, and the ability to type "watchmaker," can contradict. I know Dawkins is trying for effect here; I know he would not contradict the existence of watchmakers around the world. And yet, he does contradict the existence of watchmakers around the world because he is carried along by his passionate faith and allegiance to one watchmaker. It is just the kind of statement a boasting boy would make.

Next, like a boy whose mind can only believe good is in the world, who just wants to roam and play happily, he has trouble processing what dangers really fill the world:
The mob hysteria over pedophiles has reached epidemic proportions and driven parents to panic. Today's Just Williams, today's Huck Finns, today's Swallows and Amazons are deprived of the freedom to roam that was one of the delights of childhood in earlier times (when the actual, as opposed to the perceived, risk of molestation was probably no less).
Finally, like the boy who finds comfort in being  a bully, he reduces his arguments down to the simple, and ever so easy creed, "Strong can't be wrong. Might makes right."
Does the pregnant woman, or her family, suffer if she does not have an abortion? Very possibly so; and, in any case, given that the embryo lacks a nervous system, shouldn't the mother's well-developed nervous system have the choice?
He might as well say, "Shouldn't the bigger boy have all the rights to the swing set? He has, after all, the better developed nervous system?" 

Read Dawkins carefully, and you will find the secret of the unbeliever; they believe. Read Theresa, or the Bible, carefully, and you will find the secret of the Christians; they doubt.
If I have a major problem with Dawkins, it is this: he believes too much, too easily, on scanty evidence. His book is one of the most startling and positive statements of faith to come out in years. He asserts, with strict certainty and simple optimism, things about the universe that many of us are too skittish to believe. He confesses his faith, not so much his doubts.

Which left me wondering: why is it that the people with the fewest questions seem to be the very ones with the most answers. It would seem having more questions would be the better route to more, or at least better, answers. Then, I read Job, and I saw the man of greatest faith expressing an unbelief that made me blush; I was embarrassed by Job's unbelief until realized: only Job could question God's goodness because he believed God was good. Had he believed otherwise, Job would be a very short book. I saw: good questions come from good answers; doubt comes from knowing.  And the sun came out.

Unbelievers wonder aloud if God exists; I wonder if unbelievers exist. Unbelievers demand proof of God; I demand proof of unbelief: I have yet to see it. I believe the only man who can really doubt is the believer. I believe the believer alone knows the true pangs that the atheist pretends to know. I'm convinced the Christian is, of all men, the only one who can believe anything, and the only one who can doubt everything. The skepticism of the unbelieving world is not too severe, but too frivolous. I believe the man who believes is the only man who can lament unbelief because he is the only man who feels his unbelief. I trust the doubts of the saints. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth: and so I have learned to pray, "Help my unbelief." 

The issue I have had with unbelievers is not that they ask too many questions; they ask too few. They don't seem to have curiosity. They are content not to know, and to take it on faith that the creed they inherited from the 21st century is bankfable for eternity. They believe too much; they are too gullible.

All this to say, Theresa reminds me more of Job than, say, Richard Dawkins.

2) It may be that Theresa's felt sense of distance was the fruit of true closeness. Those who have greatest intimacy are most sensitive to the slightest distance. Also, when you love someone, you want to be closer, and closer, and closer to them. Then, the closer you are, the farther from them you feel

This explains why the Psalmists, men who surely knew God, could gasp for God like a suffocating man gasps for air, "My soul thirsts for the living God (Ps 42.2)."

There is a closeness, an intimacy, sweet and sincere, that rejoices in nearness while, at the very same moment, it mourns distance. The nearness is precious, but it is a reminder: we are still not as close as we would like to be: somewhat sated, but still, not satisfied. This is how two persons feel who are moving toward each other. This is the hallmark of true intimacy: we still feel distant. There is also a distance, cold and calculated, that recoils in nearness, and at the very same moment, mourns closeness. This is the hallmark of true distance: we still feel close.

(The above paragraph will require several readings, aloud, and some meditation. I never said I was writing for the faint of heart, or such readers as don't care to weigh and consider words. You can find light reading elsewhere).

The Christian life is a life of fasting: a life of feeling hungry, and thirsty, and weary, for more of God. The more hunger we have, the more desperate we feel, the more we are preparing our hearts to receive more of God. 

Our view of spiritual maturity is over-influenced by the materialistic feel-good culture around us; maybe Jesus wasn't kidding when he said words that would surely fall like a bad joke on our age, "Blessed are those who mourn (Mt. 5.4)."

I once visited my doctor, and complained of some health problems I was having related to my having had a rough battle with Pneumonia. He set out to fill my pockets with pills. As he did, he said something he took for granted, "We have to get you feeling good. You have to feel good don't you?"

"No," I said, "I don't." 

I didn't, but I should have, added, "The one and only thing I have to do is seek God."

"The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied (Psalm 22.26)."

Theresa spoke of witnessing physical hunger, near starvation, and she said something strange: 

And I saw the children, their eyes shining with hunger.
Maybe Theresa's eyes shined, not from being so full, but from being so hungry. I have seen eyes dull with gluttony: gluttony of a soul that has been gorged on junk food. My God, have mercy on me. I'd rather starve to death than die daily of gluttony.

3) Theresa struggled, profoundly. There is a realness to her life. It wasn't all sunshine. It wasn't a string of uninterrupted victories. She struggled, but she struggled on: she persevered.

Her soul trouble makes her work more, not less, wondrous. We admire a man who can lift a car above his head; we admire him more if he only has one arm.

She kept at her work; she kept her eyes on the poor. She did what she could even when she felt that she couldn't. Her deeds, and her deeds alone, make the monument of her life. She is in many ways similar to Job: Job wrestled with God; he asked God hard questions, and instead of getting good answers, he got more of God.

The heathen who raged, and rejoiced, at the seeming fall of a saint should have taken a closer look. They might have taken a moment to consider what true faithfulness is: it is not feeling good, but doing good. They tried to arrange the fall of a saint on the very grounds that most prove sainthood. Those they exalt will be humbled; those they seek to humble, will be exalted.

A further lesson can be learned from the struggles of Theresa. None of us, no matter our place of service, or maturity, are above agonizing groanings in this life. In fact, groaning is part of the Christian life (Romans 8.22); this groaning is good, not bad, even if we don't feel good while it is happening. Paul compares this groaning to labor pains: labor pains signal new life around the corner. The Christian's labor pains signal new life within them, and much more: the dawn of a new world of life.

5) It may be we exalted Theresa in a way that was, all along, unrealistic and unwise.

All Christians are called to be saints (translation: holy ones). It is a contradiction to place any particular Christian on an exalted spiritual plain above the rest; promoting men/women to a status way above the normal Christian is contrary to the dignity of every Christian:

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: (1 Cor 1:29).
In addition, promoting men/women in this way is contrary to the reality that, until the New Heavens, we all carry around, "a body of sin and death (Rom 7.24)." We all stumble in many ways (James 3:2). I have no idea if any of Theresa's soul trouble had to do with sin, but I do know that she, like me, like all of us, even the most mature Christians, had her own stumblings. As Spurgeon often reminded his congregation, "The best of men are but men, at best." If we don't realize this we are setting ourselves up for deep disappointments. No man/woman is going to be the perfect example of holiness we need. No man/woman is going to always come through, and never let us down. If we expect they will, we are putting them, and us, in a position to suffer disillusionment. The Christian looks to God as the one and only source of perfection; the Christian looks to Jesus as our model. God, alone, will never let us down; Jesus, alone, provides the ultimate template for godliness.

If the unbelieving world wants to ridicule Theresa, or us, and say, "There, I told you: one of your best stumbled and struggled." We should respond, "That's what we have been saying all along: that we are ALL broken sinners. This proves the reality of Christianity; we need a Savior!"

6) We need to decide what we feel; I fear there was, if not a fault, perhaps a misconception, that left Theresa with deeper burdens than were necessary. This misconception: feelings define reality and our relationship with God.

What ought define reality? Not feelings, but God's word, and facts.

What ought to define our conduct? Again, not feelings, but God's word.

"Rejoice in the Lord, always (Phil 4.4)."

This is a positive command just as much as, "Love your neighbor," is a positive command. 

We are not, Paul is urging strongly, to sit back in a joyless stupor and count our miseries. We are not to let our feelings decide whether we will sing, or pray, or delight in God. It takes effort to rejoice in anything; it takes effort to turn our hearts toward joy. This we must do because our feelings are not the ultimate evidence of true godliness. Our lives are the ultimate evidence of true godliness, "You will know them by their fruit (Mt 7.16)." One fruit of the godly life, one fruit of the Spirit of God, is JOY (Gal 5.22).

In our day, the vice of sadness has become a virtue. We revel in our sadness; we try to make ourselves more sad. We pretend to be even sadder than we are. We play sad songs on full blast, on repeat, and weep away the hours for reasons we know not why. This love of sadness is madness. This love of sadness is a sin, a fruit of lazy selfish pride. Here's my translation, with a modern day update, on a famous passage from Chesterton's Orthodoxy:

Sadness is not a virtue. It would be a heresy, but a much more sensible heresy, to say that sadness is a vice. It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one's self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do. It is much easier to write a serious and sad blog post... than a good joke... For solemnity flows out of men naturally; but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity.
We are not to be, as the popular song goes, "In love with the way (we) feel." Some things we feel, we ought hate. "In Love." Even the preposition "in" is dangerous: as if, love were a state we stumbled into, outside our control, like a state on the map. If so, then it's no surprise that many are "in" love one moment, and "out of" it the next. 

"You can't choose who you love." 

Such is the wisdom of our age: A wisdom that has launched a thousand ships, and ten thousand adulteries, and a hundred thousand wars. As popularly bandied about, this means, "You have no control over who you love." We should stop to consider what they are saying when they say such a thing. They are saying: you are a slave. You have no choice, no will, and no power in the matter; you have no dignity; you are literally at the mercy of "being in love." 

You can choose who you love; you can choose what you love. I am not given to overstatement: so, read these next words as the truest truth I can write: You can choose who/what you love, and THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT DECISION OF OUR LIVES. Not, where we go to college. Not, who we marry. Not, a retirement plan. Not, where we work. But, what we love: this is the most important decision of our lives. This Is The. Most Important. Decision. Of Our Lives.

Love is not a state on the map into which we stumble; it is a state of heart in which we walk.

"You can't choose who you love." 

I could not disagree more. On second thought, in a way, I agree with that statement -- if only interpreted much differently: according to God's word, there is a sense in which, "You can't choose who you love." 

"Love your enemies (Mt. 5.43)."

My translation, "You have no prerogative to choose who you love; no matter who the person is, you are to choose to love them. You are called by God to love even your enemies (Mt. 5.43)."

Keep in mind: loving your enemies does not imply we have sentimental feelings toward them. Nor, does it imply we are pushovers, or "nice." Out of love for their enemies, men have gone to war, and shed blood. Love wishes the best for self/others, and as much as it is in our power, it does that best. The best may mean a kind word; it may also mean a word of severe rebuke. Loving another means considering, and then acting, in their true best interest: what is really good for them. Such consideration and action arise from a heart that longs for the best for others.

The point is: Love is not a state out there; love is to be a state in here: in our hearts. It is the state we carry with us whatever state we find ourselves in. We "walk in love (Eph 5.2)" – where our feet step, there we love.

All that we have said about love applies to joy. "We can't choose when we rejoice." Yes, we are to rejoice ALWAYS (Phil 4.4).

I can say, with Poe, "When I was young, and dipped in folly, I fell in love with melancholy." 

There is a giving of oneself over, a resignation, a spiritual sluggishness, that seems so inviting to the would-be-melancholic.Such resignation bears the face of a slightly smug, but cool and mature, carelessness. It invites us to an exalted perspective wherein, we are above life: nothing matters. "Whatever. It is what it is." Chesterton warned against a proud and cool stony heart:

A bird is active, because a bird is soft. A stone is helpless, because a stone is hard. The stone must by its own nature go downwards, because hardness is weakness. The bird can of its nature go upwards, because fragility is force. In perfect force there is a kind of frivolity, an airiness that can maintain itself in the air... The tattered cloak of the beggar will bear him up like the rayed plumes of the angels. But the kings in their heavy gold and the proud in their robes of purple will all of their nature sink downwards, for pride cannot rise to levity or levitation. Pride is the downward drag of all things into an easy solemnity. One "settles down" into a sort of selfish seriousness; but one has to rise to a (happy) self-forgetfulness.
We have to fight to stay light. It's easy to be heavy and sad and loveless. We have to say, "Ever," and not, "Whatever." When prideful resignation calls, we might just sit back, and let our feelings wash over us, like a fatal injection, spreading death: like a tidal wave, tossing us cruelly, and carrying us to unknown destinations. Ah, my friend, I will tell you the destination: death. To sit back and let the world and our feelings consume us, to sit back motionless, that is death, and the road to death. The Greek word for life meant "motion." Scan the world, and you will notice: living things move; living things are active. Dead things are still; dead things are inactive. Living things, by virtue of a virtuous lightness, float; dead things sink. Living beings do not take it easy; nor, the easy way; from abundance of energy, they take the hard way. On the other hand, you can't take it more easy than being dead. Living men swim against the waves for joy at being in the ocean; dead men are carried by the waves. Let us move; let us strive; let us fight; let us run, and swim, and seek, and not yield. Let us live; let us love.

Unto our apathetic dispositions, the scriptures do not offer slick cliches, "One day you'll understand. It's sure to get better one day." They say, "You must, by grace, be better." Rejoice! Rejoice, whether (in your eyes) it get's better, or not. Rejoice, always.

I won't listen to soppy sad music anymore. I don't care to watch sad movies.  There is enough true tragedy in the world: too much for me to be weeping over a fictional character, or the depressive musings of a lovelorn womanizing pop troubador. 

"When I was older, and dipped in grace, I chose joy as my portion: joy did I embrace."

Another caution: we can fall prey to our feelings, and begin to consider our "sweetest" or "bitterest" emotional frames as evidence of intimacy and/or distance from God. We can try to gage our spirituality by how "good" we feel, or how "close" to God we feel. This is folly. "Feeling" close to someone has nothing to do with "being" close to someone. Feeling you are in the right place has nothing to do with being in the right place. Or else, those who get lost when driving would immediately know their error. In fact, the most lost people "feel" the least lost. The relationships that are really in trouble are the ones wherein an easy and insincere security takes root.

We should not, therefore, gage our spirituality by how we feel. Nor should we despair when our feelings are despairing.

We should, in such moments, take counsel of God's word and facts (these are one and the same), and not our feelings, or emotional frames. The way to fight false feeling is with fact. This is why the Psalmist reasons with himself, "Why are you so downcast, O, my soul (Ps. 43.5)." When overwhelmed by feelings, we would do well to stop and THINK.

Theresa's "feelings" concerning the distance of God were not in accord with God's word or facts. In God, "We live and move and have our being; he is not far from any one of us (Acts 17.27)."

Sometimes, even much of the time, our first feelings are simply wrong. We may feel God to be distant; we are mistaken. Jesus promised to never ever leave us, no matter where we go, and no matter how much time elapses. However we feel, that's a fact.

"And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Mt. 28.20)."


From Leadership Journal, this is the wise advice Theresa's "Pastor" gave her on dealing with spiritual dryness:

She never overcame her pain over God's silence. In a strange way, it became a part of her. In the midst of this struggle, a wise spiritual counselor told her three things she needed to hear...
... "feeling" the presence of Jesus was not the only or even the primary evidence of his presence. (Jesus himself said that by their fruit—not their feelings—you shall know his true followers.) In fact, the very craving for God was a "sure sign" that God was present—though in a hidden way—in her life.
... the pain she was going through could be redemptive. That Jesus himself had to experience the agony of the Absence of God: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" His suffering redeemed us. Like him, Mother Teresa could suffer redemptively by clinging to God in the midst of darkness.

And, from the same article:

Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith says the fastest-growing religion in America today is neither Christianity, Islam, nor some eastern religion. It is what he calls Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). In MTD, the most important "truth" about God is that he wants us all to be nice, to feel happy, and to be delivered from pain (that's the therapeutic part). Outside of being available when I need him, God will not interfere much with my life (there's the deism).
We are drawn to MTD because we want our life to be nice, happy, and uninterrupted. Smith says that MTD is in our culture—including our churches—like fluoride is in our water.
John of the Cross spoke about something like this condition. He called it "spiritual gluttony," a condition where God is merely a means to fulfill my desire to experience warm feelings and spiritual energy. John saw this as a temptation to all Christians, and taught that God will actually withdraw good feelings from us to help us grow. The "dark night of the soul"—which has come to be used by many people for any experience of suffering—actually has a very focused meaning for John. It is the season in which God withdraws comfort and emotional ease for a purpose which is good, but which we may not understand. 
Mother Teresa's namesake, Saint Therese of Lisieux, was another follower of Jesus who knew about this. According to one biographer, she "lived for most of her adult life in utter darkness and dryness and abandonment by her divine Love." Her teaching of "the little way" has helped millions of Christians make sense of the dryness. Her "little way" is this: love. This is more important than "spiritual vitality."
No matter what darkness you find yourself in, choose as your guidepost a love for whoever God has cross your path.
That elder. That staff person. That attendee. That neighbor. Do not ask for more fascinating and important people to be part of your church. Just start by loving whomever is there.
You cannot see God, Theresa reasoned. But you can see your neighbor: that difficult, tedious, cranky person who grates on the only nerve you have left.
Love that one.
The true savage is a slave, and is always talking about what he must do; the true civilized man is a free man, and is always talking about what he may do.

Chesterton, All Things Considered.

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