Diana Gruver knows what it’s like to be in the dark. Her personal experience with depression sent her on a journey to learn from others in church history about what it looks like to follow Jesus faithfully in the midst of depression’s darkness. You won’t find easy fixes or cliches here—simply an unrelenting hope that you are not alone. In the life of Mother Teresa, Diana finds a picture of what faithfulness looks like when heaven seems to have gone silent. It’s a grace to welcome Diana to the farm’s front porch today…
The world knows her name. Mother Teresa. The saint of Calcutta.
But under the surface, behind the wrinkled smile that graced the suffering, was a woman who herself was suffering.
From the time she first obeyed God’s call to begin her life as a Missionary of Charity, the intimacy she enjoyed with Him disappeared.
Emotion gave way to numbness. The fullness of God’s presence morphed into a vacant shell. She cried out to the heavens, “Do you see me here? Why have you forsaken me?”
But then she wondered if there was even anyone to hear her call. She fumbled in the dark, hoping she would not lose her way.
With the exception of one month of respite, she remained in this dark night of faith for nearly fifty years, all the way until her death.
Hers was a journey of faith, not sight.
As I read her words—her prayers, her questions, her doubts—I hear refrains of my own cries from the dark.
I don’t know if Mother Teresa was depressed, but many of us find in her a fellow sojourner, with spiritual trials akin to what we have experienced in depression.
She speaks to us wisdom of how to navigate the spiritual life when heaven seems to have gone silent, when prayers echo into the void, when the consolations of faith disappear.
Regardless of her feelings, Mother Teresa continued to turn to Jesus in prayer.
But prayer (and other spiritual disciplines as well) looked and felt different in the dark than they had in seasons of light and warmth and delight.
The oneness she had experienced with God in prayer and the sense of being in His presence dissipated to the extent that she insisted she did not pray, could not pray any longer. Her lips shaped words, but they no longer brought a sense of connection or peace.
She wrestled with God’s very existence, but still she directed all of these thoughts and feelings to Him—still she prayed.
She prayed, and Jesus met her on the way. He met her in her stifled words. He met her as she was surrounded by the prayers of her sisters during their community prayers. He met her as she walked the streets of Calcutta.
She prayed boldly of her pain, even telling God she didn’t know if she believed in Him. Regardless of her feelings, she brought her thoughts, her questions, and her hurt before God.
In this sense, her letters and prayers remind me of the lament psalms in the Bible. She didn’t know what to pray and sometimes wasn’t convinced that God was listening or that He was even there. But she turned her aching heart to Him, kept praying, kept calling out. She pounded on heaven’s door, begging God to listen, begging Him to appear.
This did not remove her pain. It did not bring instant light to her darkness. But it did keep her in the right place—at His feet.
And that small, simple, childlike faith and dependence was enough to keep her going for a lifetime.
Another practice that helped Mother Teresa find her way in the dark was obedience. She had once heard God’s call. She had been called to dedicate her life to His service, to follow Him in serving the poor, to lead a religious congregation, to care for Him by meeting the needs of the suffering. So, even when her interior life became “icy cold,” even when all within was “darkness,” she carried on in “blind faith.”
She did not understand everything. She did not have answers to why she suffered. But she continued to follow her last marching orders, taking steps each day in obedience the best way she knew how. The knowledge that she was doing God’s work was reassuring when all else felt lost.
Mother Teresa’s attitude is inspiring, but I’m left wondering how I’m to emulate it. Our situations are so different. I’m not a nun, bound to obedience to my religious superiors. I do not have a clear, specific call as she did.
I also know how debilitating depression can be. Like any illness, it affects each of us differently. Like any illness, it forces some of us to “walk with a limp” and leaves others flat on their backs. Some of us may be able to continue in our jobs or keep muddling through our activities and responsibilities. Others of us can barely get out of bed each day.
Depression does not show some of us to be more obedient or faithful than others. I do not want to use Mother Teresa’s example to say that we must will our way to wholeness or that those of us incapacitated by depression are weak, disobedient, or faithless.
But I think Mother Teresa still has something to teach us here.
We, too, can seek to be faithful and obedient in the midst of our deep pain.
This does not need to be a grandiose act—and it does not need to lead to guilt over all the things depression keeps us from doing. (We have enough guilt already.)
It may be as simple as getting out of bed, choosing life by putting our feet on the floor.
It may be taking our medication as prescribed by our doctors or taking the brave step to ask for help.
It may be exercising or letting that friend take you for coffee.
It is taking the next little step already at your feet.
God has created you with unique passions and skills, with a beautiful way only you can image Him to the world. He has invited you to participate in the work of His kingdom.
“Obedience” to this “call” is living each moment in faith that you still believe this to be true, even when your world and your vision of that kingdom is dim.
Follow Jesus there, in those tiny, faltering ways.
This is what it means to be faithful.
Diana Gruver writes about discipleship and spiritual formation in the every day. Her passion is encouraging and nurturing disciples of Jesus, giving them a vision for how He speaks to every aspect of the story of their lives. She serves as a writer and communications director for the Vere Institute, and lives in south-central Pennsylvania, where she can often be found singing in the kitchen with her husband and ever-curious daughter.
Diana’s first book, Companions in the Darkness, tells the stories and shares the wisdom of seven “saints” throughout church history who struggled with depression and doubt. They are stories she wishes she had known when she first walked through depression’s darkness. Drawing on her own experience with depression, Diana offers a wealth of practical wisdom both for those in the darkness and those who care for them. Not only can these saints teach us valuable lessons about the experience of depression, they can also be a source of hope and empathy for us today.