When Mother Teresa died in Calcutta at the age of 87, her diaries were collected by Roman Catholic authorities and taken back to Rome. Many were shocked, however, when they read her words and discovered the extreme inner turmoil experienced by the Nun and Nobel Peace Laureate who always seemed so confident of her faith. For instance, we know that Mother Teresa wrote in 1958, ‘My smile is a great cloak that hides a multitude of pains…[People] think that my faith, my hope and my love are overflowing, and that my intimacy with God and union with His will fills my heart. If only they knew.’ In another letter, she wrote, ‘The damned of hell suffer eternal punishment because they experiment with the loss of God. In my own soul, I feel the terrible pain of this loss. I feel that God does not want me, that God is not God, and that God does not exist.’ In response to such revelations, Il Messaggero, Rome’s popular daily newspaper said: ‘The real Mother Teresa was one who for one year had visions and who for the next fifty had doubts – until her death.’
The above are extracts from a remarkable book entitled ‘God on Mute’. It is an extremely moving account of the struggle the author, Pete Greig, faces in trying to reconcile his faith with the bombshell that his beautiful young wife has been diagnosed with cancer. Can I encourage you to buy the book?
In one chapter he interacts with the biblical drama of Easter. Here’s what he says:
‘Holy Saturday fascinates me. The Bible tells us almost nothing about this mysterious day sandwiched between crucifixion and resurrection when God allowed the whole of creation to live without answers. It’s a day of confusion and silence. Roman Catholics and many Anglicans strip their altars bare – back to the bones – on Holy Saturday. I guess it’s the one day in the entire year when the Church has nothing to say. And yet, although we know so little about it, Holy Saturday seems to me to describe the place in which many of us live our lives: waiting for God to speak. We know that Jesus died for us yesterday. We trust that there may be miracles tomorrow. But what of today – this eternal Sabbath when heaven is silent? Where, we wonder, is God now?’
I warm to his honesty. Trite answers have been stripped away as he watches his wife’s condition deteriorate. Ever been where this young man walked? If you have I am sure you, like the author, will have received a variety of ‘comforting’ words, some helpful, some anything but! In my role I often find myself coming alongside people living on ‘Holy Saturday’ and what I have discovered is that in spite of the pain and anguish it can be a sanctified path where remarkable and unexpected things happen. Let me give you an example from his book.
Sheila Giffard-Smith recently wrote me a letter looking back on 72 years of debilitating illness with remarkable serenity. She said: ‘My dependence on the Lord in my need has drawn me ever closer to Him, discovering His strength in my weakness, His presence in my pain. So looking back, I can say that I almost feel sorry for those who go through life with such freedom from trouble that they never discover the greatest gift of God’s strength! Now, at the age of 80, I feel so blessed.’
Quite remarkable! But that I guess is part of the mystery and wonder of Easter. Knowing God in our circumstances, the good ones but perhaps, especially, the tough ones.