Faith

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DOUBTING MOTHER TERESA


Most people in our society follow the beautiful people, those who seem to have it all together, almost perfect, unscathed by the bumps and bruises of life. But, all my heroes walk with a limp. They limp because their faith was forged in the fires of pain, suffering, and doubt. I don’t get carried away by the latest fad book, the trendy, tweet-sized philosophy, or the bumper sticker theological treatise. I just don’t have time for that anymore.

When men and women have suffered greatly, I will eagerly listen to them. Pain cuts through the chaos and clutter of modern life. Even before I had personally experienced deep pain in my life, I always seemed to gravitate toward people who had endured pain and hardship and somehow came out on the other side not just alive but stronger. We all must choose who we follow and who we learn from.

One of the greatest women of faith in the past century was Mother Teresa. She lived, breathed, and touched death for decades. She poured out her blood, sweat, and tears to comfort the sick and dying in the streets of Calcutta. Her job was brutal and depressing. But somehow she found joy in it.

She was confident that God had called her to this horrendous place. I never dreamed that a devoted follower, like Mother Teresa, could battle enormous doubts. I thought that if you stepped out and did something radical for the faith, then all of your doubts would evaporate.

I don’t know why I held on to this false belief, but I did. I didn’t need to look far to prove that theory wrong. I should have re-examined so many biblical examples of people who did something radical but still had doubts. John the Baptist was radical. He doubted. Thomas was radical. He doubted. David was radical. He doubted. And so did Mother Teresa.

We identify Mother Teresa as an iconic figure of piety, self-sacrifice, and faith. Most of us didn’t know that throughout her life she felt plagued by the darkness of doubt. She wrote: “I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing.” And in another personal letter, she struggled with accepting the love of Jesus: “Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.”

People of faith have been divided over the discovery of Mother Teresa’s doubt. Chris Armstrong reported that “the Christian world drew a collective breath of shock when, in 2007, we discovered through a posthumously published book that Mother Teresa of Calcutta had undergone a severe, intense dark night that persisted through almost her entire ministry.” When her doubts were publicized around the world, most in the media mocked her, revealing their gross misunderstanding of the nature of faith, doubt, and certainty. They tried to use her doubts against her faith, calling her a hypocrite.

In great contrast, I rejoiced at the revelation and felt a sense of relief. “If it is okay for Mother Teresa to have doubts about God, perhaps it is okay for me.” She was one of the most admired women in the world. She gave her life to serve the poor and dying in one of the biggest slums on the planet. Mother Teresa’s doubt helped me, and I believe her doubt can serve as a remedy for those of us who have questions and doubts because the problem for many of us is this—we doubt alone. This loneliness makes us feel that if we do not have certainty about God or our faith in God, then we are on the verge of losing faith altogether. At best, we feel like second-class Christians.

The fact is, doubt is the normal Christian life for many known and unknown saints. You may have grown up in a Christian home that assumed a biblical worldview. Sometimes it is hard to transition to a world (like college!) where most people don’t share the same faith. One of the greatest challenges you may face will be in the academic world that doesn’t share your Christian Worldview. Questions and doubts keep our faith honest and our prayers real. Doubt gives us some humility, in other words, we need to accept the truth that no one, and I mean no one, can have absolute certainty this side of heaven. Yes, Mother Teresa doubted. She is one of a long line of doubters. It should give us courage to admit our own doubts to ourselves, to others, and especially to God.

Doubting is not unique to a person or a time period. It is the nature of being a finite human living in a complex world filled with pain, disappointment, and questions about existence that will never be answered on this side of life. Doubting is biblical, historical, and normal for many Christians who are trying to follow God with their lives. It takes courage to face uncertainty and to live with doubts that may never completely go away.

Over the years, people came from all over the world to seek the wisdom of Mother Teresa. One of those seekers was a philosopher and professor named John Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh traveled thousands of miles to Calcutta to meet with this revered spiritual leader in hope of receiving some guidance. On his first morning there, Mother Teresa asked Kavanaugh why he journeyed such a long distance to visit her in the “house of the dying.”

Kavanaugh replied, “I want you to pray for me.”

She asked, “How can I pray for you?”

He said, “Pray that I have clarity.”

Mother Teresa responded, “That I will not do.”  Her response stunned Kavanaugh, so he asked her why she would not pray for him to have clarity.

She smiled and said “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.”

I like this simple story. Clarity, like certainty, can become an idol. Kavanaugh, like most of us, wanted certainty that his next steps were the right ones … the steps God wanted him to take. Mother Teresa knew such certainty was not available, so she chose to tell him that he must let go of that desire.

When she told him that clarity (certainty) was the last thing he was holding on to and must let go of, Kavanaugh responded, “You always seem to have clarity.” Teresa laughed and said “I have never had clarity. What I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”

That’s not a bad prayer, for people like myself, who seem to be obsessed by this endless quest for certainty. Because in faith, there is room for doubt.

 

Written By Ben Young

Ben Young, DM is a writer and teaching pastor at Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. He is also an adjunct professor at Houston Theological Seminary, and the author of seven books, including Devotions for Dating Couples and Room for Doubt: How Uncertainty Can Deepen Your Faith.   www.benyoung.org



Love: It Can’t Coexist with Hate


You only love Jesus as much as you love the person you like the least.  Or, how about this:  your love for Jesus equals the amount of love you have for the person you hate the most.

Harsh, right?

You’re shaking your head and saying, no way, I love Jesus way more than that.

I’ve thought the same.  In fact, I’ve been in denial for several years.  I’ve looked at other people (Christians, mind you) who were burning with anger and hatred and thought, “Wow, they must not love Jesus very much.” But all the while, I’ve not put much thought into what this meant in my own life.

The fact that the difficult equation has surfaced many times throughout the years tells me that it’s something I need to work on.

The fact that I felt compelled to write about it tells me I’m not the only one.

Think about this.  Jesus tells us to love one another.  People who aren’t Christians like to call us out on this one, too; they like to point out our hypocrisy.  And it’s rampant for a reason…loving someone you don’t like is really, really hard to do.

It’s so hard to do, in fact, that it’s easier to walk away from people we don’t like and stop dealing with them altogether rather than find some common ground or forgiveness or, gulp, here it is again, love.  We harden our hearts and dismiss people like they are broken or out of date cell phones that can be replaced by shiny, unfamiliar, newer versions.  I know because I’ve done it.  Repeatedly.

Until I decided that I’m done, I’m not walking away.  I’m going to deal with it.  By giving it to God.  I know it sounds ridiculous, but here is the thing…GET OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY.  I got so fed up with the fury churning at the inside that I’ve simply prayed, “God, please, fill up that space, that gap, where I am so shamefully lacking, and help me love this person.”  I had to mean it.  I had to empty myself of the anger by no longer giving it my attention, and I let God do what He does.  And here’s the thing…He did.

I have stood across from people I have absolutely nothing in common with other than the fact that we both have noses on our faces; our political, spiritual, moral codes, our likes and dislikes so polar opposite it’s difficult to see them as people, and I have loved them for reasons I cannot explain.  I have recognized them as souls that God made with a purpose, and I have felt nothing but compassion.  I have faced people who have hurt me deeply and personally, and I have prayed the same prayer, and all my hurt feelings have shriveled in God’s pool of forgiveness.

Loving others, the ones that are most difficult to love, the ones that are the most distant, have brought to me more peace than anything else I have experienced in my life.  I wish there was something that I could so eloquently say that would convince you this is true, but I don’t have those words.  I can only pray that you want it enough in your own life that you try it.

And, while this may be another article of its own, I think it’s important enough to add: this goes for yourself.  If the one person you can’t stand to be around, the one person you wish you could change or punish or perfect is the girl staring back at you in the mirror, you have to love her, too.  You can’t love Jesus and hate yourself.  

Anger and hate and contempt cannot coexist within a soul that claims to love Jesus.  They are too big of burdens to bear, and they will squeeze out all the goodness that Christ wants to bring out in our lives.  Fortunately, the opposite is true.  His light is brighter than the darkness of contempt, and He will quench it if we allow Him to.  The question is, which one will you choose?

 

Written by Ellen Marie Hawkins



Let God Be Your Giant Slayer


Life’s problems and challenges, I call “giants”, seem insurmountable and impossible to resolve. The Bible story of a young David taking on the giant, Goliath, and winning gives me a lot of hope! Consequently, we know we can win our battles too when we let God be our Giant Slayer!

Young David, the youngest of his father’s eight sons, was a keeper of his father’s sheep. David’s job was to shepherd the sheep, keeping them safe, warm, and well fed. Now sheep are not particularly smart so they must be led to fresh grass and water. They need protection from predators. David’s job was challenging!

Funny thing, as he learned the challenges of being a shepherd, he didn’t know that God was preparing him to shepherd a kingdom. Life changed for David when Samuel, a prophet of the Lord, came to David’s father Jesse looking for the one who replace King Saul as king. No one expected David to be selected, especially David.

God had specific qualifications he was looking for in the future leader of the Israelites.  God is looking for one who is His, one with heart who loves God more than life, and loves others as God loves. God is looking for someone teachable and willing to obey His commands. Samuel 16:7 tells what God requires:

“But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.”

Our battles are the LORD’S. He knows we are weak and dependent upon Him. He will fight for us, just as He enabled David as he fought for the Hebrews.

David wasn’t afraid of anything as long as He kept a right relationship with God. David knew God would provide the direction and instruction he needed. Saul doubted he could fight Goliath and win, but David told him how God had prepared him:

“Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear:  and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God. David said moreover, The LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine.  And Saul said unto David, Go, and the LORD Be with thee.” 1 Samuel 17:36-37

We too have our challenges ahead of us, but we can be assured that God has it all worked out if we will follow Him. He will lead and guide us each step of the way. Like David, He will prepare us, even when we don’t realize it!

What are your giants?

Bitterness? Bitterness keeps us from staying focused on Him. It is the result of us seeking our will and being angry when we don’t accomplish our plan. Feelings of being let down by God when we don’t get our way, leads to resentment and separation from our LORD. Bitterness is a giant that must be conquered.

Addictions? Addictions weaken us. Depending on something or someone other than our LORD leads to disappointment. When we can’t handle life’s challenges and consequences from wrong decisions, we often turn to artificial means to cope. Addictions are giants that must be overcome.

What is the giant that seems insurmountable in your life? Tell the LORD. Seek His help.  The LORD overcomes all giants, if we let Him.

Written By Linda Hull



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