Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Pray For Vicki

My wife, Vicki, was hospitalized Monday with acute Pancreatitis.

She gets this malady occasionally. It is quite painful. She usually has to go into the hospital with it to be treated. This illness comes on top of her other chronic medical problems like Crohn's, Celiac Sprue, and back pain.

She still is as beautiful as ever, though. And she somehow manages to maintain a real passion for her job as an activities director at a nursing home.

Remember her in your prayers over the next few days.

One other personal note. She and I are still reeling with delight over the first birthday of our precious grandson, Micah, on September 21. He is a treasure!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa shocked us all the other week.

Well, not personally. This tiny, compassionate Catholic nun, who ministered to the poor and the outcasts and the dying in the streets of a major city in India for decades, died 10 years ago.

But newly revealed letters that she wrote over a period of 66 years have proven to be quite unsettling. Compiled in an upcoming book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light(Doubleday, 2007) these letters clearly show that this godly humanitarian lived for a long, long stretch in a deep crisis of faith. She seems to doubt the existence of God and writes of not sensing the presence of the Lord in her life. She describes spiritual dryness and silence. She laments the inner darkness and loneliness of her journey. She apparently felt that God was absent. While continuing to go on in her active, merciful service for the Heavenly Father to the desperate and the despised and the despairing, she found it very difficult, if not impossible, to even pray. And she lived with this kind of internal torment for 50 years!

This revelation confuses us. We looked at her and thought that if anyone walked close to God it was her. She was a role model and a pattern of quiet, humble, consistent, devoted ministry and faith. We assumed that she surely had it all together in her relationship with the Lord. On the outside she gave every evidence of being confident and comfortable in her connection with the divine. Now we're left shaking our heads in consternation, wondering what this all means.

But we shouldn't be too surprised.

If we're honest we'll admit that all of us struggle with doubts sometime. Whether or not God exists. Whether we've really been saved or not. If our ugly sins have really been forgiven. If the Lord is actually at work on our pathway. Often we just can't sense God's presence. Occasionally we don't feel like praying or going to church or reading the Bible. And Christians are aware from time to time of emptiness and darkness on the inside.

Maybe this sobering discovery about Mother Teresa is a good thing because it will liberate us as we realize that these valleys and feelings of God-desertion are common. Way back in the 1500's, St. John of the Cross labeled experiences like this "dark nights of the soul." They can be torturous, especially to those of us brought up in traditions where Christians are supposed to always be happy and smiling and enthusiastic and conscious of bubbly, heavenly vibes on the inside. It's time we tell the truth about our pilgrimage and disclose that there are those moments when we don't feel that God is close at hand. Frankly, sometimes we think that God has abandoned us.

Just ask John the Baptist. In Matthew 11 we find this forerunner, this advance man, this messenger, this one who introduced the Messiah to the world, lanquishing in jail and beginning to wallow in some doubts about whether Jesus is really the long-awaited deliverer. I'm so glad that story is in the Bible because it suggests that even preachers and spiritual leaders wrestle with doubts and fears and loneliness. John must have pondered over why, if Jesus was the promised saviour, that he had to go through this miserable suffering in a jail cell and most likely get executed. Couldn't Jesus do something about his servant's difficulty?

John did the right thing with his inner torment, though. He was honest about it for one thing. And he sent some of his followers straight to Jesus with his sincere questions. The Lord responded that there was evidence all around if one would just look. Notice that Jesus didn't condemn John for his doubts but actually commended him to the crowds. You see, our Lord knew that there was more to John than this momentary episode of spiritual trial. He was strong on the inside and would get through this. Good words for us, huh? I John 3:20 seems to touch on this when it affirms that in those dry, dark times when it appears that we have utterly failed and that God is absent, we can find stability in the knowledge that the Lord sees the whole picture. He knows us better than we know ourselves. And God is never really absent, anyway. Sometimes He uses our sense of His desertion to create a deeper hunger and longing for Him in our hearts. Or to build in us a stronger, deeper faith that isn't constructed on emotions alone.

Turns out that Mother Teresa is an even greater inspiration and example to us than we ever realized before, then. Despite her doubts and inner struggles she kept on going. She held on even when she could not see the light. She cried out for relief and help and a desire for God's presence but continued to minister in one of the world's hardest places in deplorable cicumstances even when what she longed for was not forthcoming. Now that's faith! Genuine faith.

Is it too much to ask, then, that when we're tempted or sick or lonely or not feeling warm, fuzzy sensations in church services or can't muster up the passion to pray or wonder if God cares or is there at all that we persevere and not quit? That we stay committed even when it all seems so unreal?

It may be that the richest legacy of the small, stooped holy woman of India is just coming to light now.