Have you ever experienced a long, difficult stretch spiritually? Perhaps even now, friend? A time where you have been praying and praying and praying—perhaps for months over years—for something so near and dear to your heart, yet it feels like nothing is happening? This is a hard aspect of the spiritual journey, yet so important.
Your petition likely is not something small, but such a great desire of your heart, that it’s heartbreaking to see what seems like no progress for a very long time. And over that very long time, you have not only experienced spiritual dryness, but even a sort of darkness. A spiritual darkness where even though you know that God exists, He loves you, and He has not nor will He ever abandon you, you do not experience any consolations or feelings to those ends. In fact, you may feel quite the opposite—alone, isolated, and like God is either far, apathetic, or busy elsewhere. Not only do I understand these feelings, but I believe that anyone who is earnestly pursuing sainthood also does at times.
During Lent, I wrote about spiritual consolations amidst suffering. Consolations are beautiful gifts, and God is good to provide them. Yet when I think of true love, like the love I share through the Sacrament of Marriage with my husband, it’s a love that far exceeds the feelings we have for one another. Not because it’s perfect, because it is not, but because being happily married and having a family are not our end goals—it’s Heaven. Mike and I not only understand that, but strive to be each other’s paths to get there through seeking to be faithful to God, each other, and our vows. If our marriage is to serve as the Incarnation of Christ’s love for the Church (see Ephesians 5:25), where Jesus laid down His life and gave Himself up out of love, then it’s not going to be easy. But it will be completely worthwhile, and will sanctify us daily—if we allow it.
In difficult and dark times, a great source of consolation for me has come from knowing that St. Teresa of Calcutta, one of our ministry’s patronesses, persevered through harrowing feelings during her dark night of the soul or spiritual darkness. Mother Teresa went through tremendous interior suffering for nearly fifty years, struggling with doubt and despair while barely another living soul was aware of it.
In my heart there is no faith—no love—no trust—there is so much pain—the pain of longing, of not being wanted—I want God with all the powers of my soul,”Mother Teresa wrote to her confessor in 1959
When you look at Mother Teresa’s life and see how faithful and loving she was to so many—it can seem hard to reconcile that underneath everything was such tremendous pain. In the hiddenness of her own heart, she felt unwanted, exactly like the people she was serving day in and day out over decades.
The book, Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta revealed St. Teresa’s spiritual journey, including the darkness. In 1961, renowned Theologian and Mother’s spiritual director Fr. Joseph Neuner, S.J., told her that her dark night could have been an invitation from God. Perhaps He had called her to identify with abandonment—that of the poor or which Christ experienced on the cross—and share in His redemptive suffering. He reminded her that the longing for God came from God Himself. He was still present even if it felt like He was not. She responded in a letter to her advisor for the first time in eleven years that, “I have come to love the darkness.”
It took St. Teresa many years to arrive at that point. If it took such a great saint that long, well, it gives me great hope for you and I, friends.
No less remarkable, though, was that despite her inner turmoil, Momma T (my affectionate name for St. Teresa) persevered and lived her faith and mission with zeal. That is a source of encouragement and motivation because it helps us to acknowledge our feelings but not be ruled by them, to honor where we’re at and seek God to move us beyond it to become more like Him.
Going into this year’s team retreat, I was well aware of how our own hearts have been full of pain, extraordinary longing, as wells as voids – faith, love, trust or likewise. And I also knew that God never desired that any of us would suffer interior agony, but He has and will continue to use it to serve some eternal purpose. I’m so grateful for these beautiful ladies that make up our team, truly seeking to journey with each other and you towards restoration, so that we can help each other to see how God is purposing our pain.
This past weekend, I was listening to this interview that Chris Stefanick did with Exorcist Fr. Chad Ripperger. It’s fascinating and holds great insights into the spiritual life, so I encourage you to watch all of it, but there was a part that illuminated a bit more about the eternal purpose of harder spiritual concepts to grasp—such as spiritual darkness even to possession. Fr. Ripperger said that God allows such things so that they become an instrument of our sanctification. By having to combat evil or endure such sufferings, we can attain a level of virtue and sanctity that we otherwise would not. God does not want us to be mediocre people, He wants us to become great saints that spend eternity with Him!
I pray that whatever circumstances you find yourself in today, friend, that God will use them to nurture you spiritually into the saint that He knows you can become. He already has a Mother Teresa, so He doesn’t need another, He needs you—right where you are at, amidst your current state and sufferings, to love who and how He is calling you to, day by day. And it is through that daily walk that He is refining your purpose, so that you can grow in faith, hope, and love and help those around you do the same. Because you walk by Christ’s light, which “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” (Jn 1:5).