Mother Teresa's dark night of the soul: What can you learn from God's silence
For more than 50 years of her life, "Mother Teresa was wrapped in a dark, pitiless silence", according the soon-to-be-saint's biographer, David Scott.
After hearing the "call within a call", Teresa only heard the voice of God once more before her death. She experienced what St John of the Cross described as the "dark night of the soul". She wrote frequently about loneliness, not hearing from God, fear of hypocrisy and doubts.
In one of the letters published after her death, she wrote: "Darkness is such that I really do not see – neither with my mind nor with my reason – the place of God in my soul is blank – There is no God in men – when the pain of longing is so great – I just long and long for God... The torture and pain I can't explain."
It is tempting to ignore this side of Mother Teresa, focusing instead on her selfless service of the poor and the joy with which it seemed she lived.
But to do so would be a mistake.
We naturally shy away from the harsher realities of following Jesus, not wanting to examine them too closely, unless we – ourselves – get infected. We want the Christianity that brings joy and laughter, not emptiness and pain. Yet, to refuse to engage with the reality that we will have times of being in the wilderness is dangerous.
There will be times of wilderness, whether we like it or not. We have all been there, or will be there, when we pray to God, earnestly seeking to hear from him and we get nothing. The heavens are silent.
These times might not last 50 years, but they are an inevitable part of the Christian journey.
The Bible tells the story of a man name Job, who was well acquainted with this silence. In his pain, he cried out to God, yet these cries were answered with a deafening silence for 37 chapters. But the story does not end there. He chose to hope in the Lord, despite the circumstances, and the Lord was faithful.
The example of Job alone is enough to show that God's silence is not always a reflection on your salvation status. It is true that God may choose not to speak with us if we have unconfessed sin, but this is not the only reason. In fact, throughout the Bible there are examples of faithful men and women of God who go through periods where God seemingly abandons them.
The book of Psalms are littered with laments. David, God's chosen King of Israel, often felt abandoned by Him and mused extensively on the dark nights of his soul.
"How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide my face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?" (Psalm 13:1-2)
When God is silent people it is easy to fall either into self-condemnation or doubt: either we are not good enough for God or God is not good, or even God. But, the biblical precedent that God chooses to be silent to his faithful at times must reassure us that this is not the case.
Going forward in this security, we are freed from fleeing from God when the silence comes, instead able to draw near, just as David did at the end of Psalm 13:
"But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord's praise, for he has been good to me."
In this freedom from fear, we are liberated to embrace these times of silence. This is not to belittle the suffering endured when God seemingly turns his back, but to engage with it from a perspective knowing that He has not. The removal of fear allows us to stand in the silence, knowing the truth, even if we cannot feel it.
There will be things that can be learned in this place of "wilderness" that we would otherwise miss. It is tempting to avert our eyes from the suffering we face, looking ahead to the solution, however, in the knowledge that God's silence is not condemnation, we have a new freedom to look directly at it.
In this time of embracing the silence, our character can grow, preparing us for that which God will call us to next. Through reading His word and deciding to trust in His faithfulness – choosing not to withdraw but to draw near – God will meet us.
Even when situations do not change objectively, if we continue to long for God in these wilderness places, the morning will come.
"Weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes with the morning." (Psalm 30:5)