Long before I thought of anything Catholic, I heard of Mother Teresa. After all, who hadn’t? The diminutive nun in the distinctive sari with the blue stripes with the most wrinkled face I think I’d ever seen, yet radiating love, concern, intensiveness of purpose. Such a small woman, yet such a powerhouse of ministry to the poorest of the poor, she inspired people of all religions. I was intrigued enough that I ordered a book about her around the time of Princess Diana’s death and her own (Diana died Aug. 31, 1997 and Mother Teresa on Sept. 5). When the book arrived, I read it all, but was disturbed by a comment she made that she didn’t try to convert anyone. Her only purpose was to serve the poorest of the poor in whom she saw the face of Christ. (I learned later she saw everyone that way.)
The idea of not trying to convert anyone struck me as wrong. After all, if she was a Christian (and I wasn’t sure since she was obviously a Catholic), then why would she not seek to bring the Gospel to anyone she could, especially considering her influence on the world. I put the book away and chalked up my reading to new information learned and went on.
However, that quote would come back to me every once in a while and I still couldn’t make any sense of it. People obviously did convert due to her ministry, but she didn’t make that her focus. I learned later that if a person was a Hindu or Muslim or whatever faith and was in danger of death, she would call whatever religious leader that person required for their end-of-life rites. Why would she not call a priest and perhaps have a deathbed conversion opportunity? Over time, however, I realized that she respected that person’s free will to choose and have that choice honored, even at death. And I had to admire her as I thought of how I wouldn’t want to be in danger of death and have someone refuse to call my pastor and instead bring in their own religious leader who would pressure me in my last hours to convert. There were plenty of people who did request a priest because after they had been cared for by the Sisters they desired that, but it wasn’t (and still isn’t) pushed upon them.
After I became Catholic I began acquiring books about Mother Teresa herself and ones taken from her writings and speeches. I’ve found her to be a fascinating woman, realizing she was a holy, determined woman who accomplished much, but also had a sense of humor and could embarrass some of her friends by her directness. (Such as when she insisted a priest accompany her into the Vatican to see John Paul II when he hadn’t been approved beforehand. The disapproving looks of security did not deter her at all and she ended up having the priest concelebrate Mass with the Pope!)
How could one woman achieve so much? The answer lies in the quote above—she saw herself as simply the pencil in God’s hand, writing the story He desired of her life. Does a pencil tell the writer what to write? Of course not. What does a pencil do when the writer pauses? It stops writing. The pencil is perfectly docile, doing only as the writer wills.
That was the secret of the life of Mother Teresa—she desired only to will what God willed.
When she began new foundations, she knew that if it was the will of God, He would make a way. If He didn’t, then no matter how good of an idea it was nor how ideal the location, it wasn’t His time to establish a mission there. She accepted that and went on to other work.
This challenges me to ask myself how often I keep pushing on doors that won’t open because I’m so convinced this is the right way? It also comforts me because there are times I look back to decisions and wonder if it they were right and am reminded of all the ways God brought things together at just the right moment.
I long to be a pencil in the hand of God, writing my story according to His will and for His glory. After all, who better to write it?