Time magazine called her doubt "Mother Teresa's Crisis of Faith." Raymond Flynn, former Ambassador to the Vatican, called it "the work of the devil." Whatever (or whoever) the source of her struggles, I'm sure atheist Christopher Hitchins feels vindicated for calling Mother Teresa "a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud." I prefer to think of her as an ordinary woman who knew and expressed the love of Jesus a lot better than I do.
Not that I wish doubt upon anyone, but in a way it's good the world is talking about Mother Teresa's feelings of emptiness. Perhaps it will lead some to the truth that Christianity is not a "things go better with Jesus" kind of religion. Perhaps it will lead some to read portions of the Bible like Psalm 13 ("How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?"), Psalm 22 ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"), Psalm 55 ("My heart is severely pained within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me"), or the books of Job, Lamentations, and others.
I ran across an excellent essay on Scriptorium Daily called "Why Was Mother Teresa Sad?" The author, Fred Sanders, offers these 10 possible reasons Mother Teresa often went through the dark night of the soul:
1. Maybe it’s depressing to be immersed in the lives of the poor of Calcutta, every day for your whole life. Think about the last thing you saw that “ruined your day.” Then think Calcutta.
2. Maybe she was very empathetic. See point 1, repeat.
3. Maybe her sense of God’s nearness was so intense for a brief time in the 1940s that everything after that seemed, by comparison, empty. The key is, “by comparison.”
4. Maybe she inherited from her religious culture an unrealistic set of expectations about the level of spiritual intimacy to expect in her emotional life. Whether it is the expectation of “being visited by extraordinary consoling graces” in a Catholic context or “he walks with me and he talks with me” in an evangelical context, the gap between the rhetoric and the daily reality can be a steep drop.
5. Maybe her special gift was more about outward activity than inward contemplation, and whenever somebody asked her to write down her big sins, she came up with besetting doubt. So her life is 95% obedient service, and 5% darkness and doubt. (A corollary of this one is, Maybe she wasn’t perfect)
6. Maybe the twenty-one thousandth time you wake up thinking, “Hey, I’m pretty cool, I bet Jesus is really pleased with me,” – only to catch yourself at that nonsense — you get a little depressed that this sinful self-congratulation thing isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
7. Maybe she developed, over the years of prayer, Bible study, church attendance, and service, an appropriately elevated sense of how high and exalted God is compared to any human achievement or conduct. It could be that the people who throw themselves into obedience the most whole-heartedly are the ones who are most able to see how exalted God is, and how petty, partial, and weak our best response is.
8. Maybe a life-long relationship with Jesus Christ is a life-long relationship with a person whose presence is spiritual rather than physical, whose standard conduct is not to reply verbally when spoken to, whom “having not seen, we love,” and who is currently at the right hand of the Father from which he shall come to judge the living and the dead.
9. Maybe prayer is talking to a God who is invisible and silent, and everything in our nature cries out that visible and speaking would be more gratifying.
10. Maybe all creation groans for the revelation of the glorious freedom of the children of God, and those who have the Holy Spirit groan in greatest solidarity with the rest of creation.