God Does Not Abandon Us: What Mother Teresa Taught the World About Embracing Spiritual Darkness

Mother Teresa lived out of the conviction that, even though she could not feel Our Lord present, he had never abandoned her.

Cover of ‘Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light’ (left); Diego Velázquez, “Christ Crucified,” ca. 1632
Cover of ‘Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light’ (left); Diego Velázquez, “Christ Crucified,” ca. 1632 (photo: Image Publishing/Public Domain)

I have worked my way, slowly, through the private writings of Mother Teresa in the book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta, edited by Missionary of Charity Father Brian Kolodiejchuk and published by Image Publishing.

The book is comprised of letters Mother Teresa of Calcutta wrote to her spiritual directors over the course of decades. It chronicles the saint’s journey as she founded and developed the Missionaries of Charity and includes the more than 15 years that she endured intense spiritual darkness that she at one point compared to hell.

Although she had asked her spiritual directors to destroy her letters once they read them, they preserved numbers of them because it was obvious to them that they were corresponding with a saint. The letters were then published after her death and examined during the cause for her beatification. 

Although it is an older book (published in 2009), it was not long ago that I discovered it. It was recommended by the facilitator of an online retreat I attended, and I purchased the book immediately and dug in. What held me up from finishing the book in good time is not its length but rather my own period of spiritual darkness. No doubt that is why our Lord led me to it when he did. I walked through Mother Teresa’s spiritual darkness as I walked through my own, and found in her both mentor and companion. 

There is one passage that particularly impacted me, as it shows a side of the Crucified Christ that I had never encountered before. She wrote in a letter to the Sisters of Charity:

“At the Incarnation Jesus became like us in all things except sin; but at the time of the Passion, he became sin. – He took on ours sins and that was why He was rejected by the Father. I think that this was the greatest of all the sufferings He had to endure and the thing He dreaded most in the agony in the Garden. Those words of His on the Cross were the expression of the depth of His loneliness and Passion – that even His own Father didn’t claim Him as His Son. That, despite all His suffering and anguish, His Father did not claim Him as His beloved Son, as He did at the Baptism by St. John the Baptist and at the Transfiguration. You ask, ‘Why?’ Because God cannot accept sin and Jesus had taken on sin – He had become sin. Do you connect your vows with this Passion of Jesus? Do you realize that when you accept the vows you accept the same fate as Jesus?”

One’s situation in life easily could be substituted for the word “vows” in Mother Teresa’s letter. It reflects the inner disposition of Mother Teresa as she bore the excruciating agony of spiritual darkness amid the physical hardship of extreme poverty and daunting responsibilities. She embraced it, just as Jesus embraced our sinfulness during his Passion and Crucifixion. She embraced it for our Lord’s sake, allowing him everything and refusing him nothing. It was only when I realized this that I had my first, albeit faint, glimpse of light in my darkness. The more I embraced it for Jesus’ sake, the lesser the darkness became. Then one day, quite unexpectedly, I found myself embraced by the Light.

I hear from so many people who suffer from spiritual darkness these days. I know from experience that it’s easy to think God is not there because you do not feel him there. The loneliness and uncertainty can be devastating. In those times, we can look to Mother Teresa as example and guide. She lived out of the conviction that our Lord had not abandoned her, even though she could not feel him present. It is the same for us. Our Lord has not abandoned us. He is present even when we do not feel him there.