It’s More than a Feeling
I’ll let you in on a little secret. Missionaries aren’t always enthusiastically happy. We get tired and crabby. We lose our tempers. We inwardly groan when there’s one more knock at the door. Sometimes the last thing we feel like doing is leading another retreat or helping another beggar.
I was planning to write a wonderfully insightful, inspiring post about volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta. Like how I experienced the intimate presence of God among the poorest of the poor. But He had a different lesson in store for me.
I’m weak. I’m selfish. I’m a mess. I need Him.
In Calcutta, I came face-to-face with my fickle emotions. We’re all familiar with the ups and downs of daily life. God originally planned for our spirit, mind, body, and will to work together in beautiful harmony. But when sin entered the world, this harmony was broken and our emotions became disordered. I feel this effect of sin every day. When the sun is shining, I’m all set to head to the after-school tutoring class in the slum. But give me a rainy afternoon, and it’s an uphill battle to drag myself out of the house. When I’ve had a good night sleep, spending an hour with Jesus is the highlight of my day. If I’m tired or annoyed, prayer feels like endless minutes ticking uselessly by.
Mother Teresa is one of my heroes. Her profound love for Jesus in the poor has inspired me for years. I’d dreamed of “Calcutta” as this larger-than-life place that instantly transforms people into saints. I was expecting to be filled with exalted angelic feelings as I worked in Nirmal Hriday, a home for the destitute and dying. Like somehow walking in Mother Teresa’s footsteps would imbue every action with deep significance.
Very quickly the rose-tinted glasses began to crack. My feelings were everything but holy and loving. I was tired. I was hot. I was completely overwhelmed by the crowded, noisy, polluted city. At Nirmal Hriday it was a struggle to keep my mind on the task at hand. I felt frustrated and inept. Yes, it was Christ who we served in these women, but I still gave an inward shudder at changing adult diapers, cleaning wounds, and wiping drool. I felt like I was doing “small things,” but without “great love.”
As I prayed about what a mess I was, I read one of Mother Teresa’s quotes: “That we feel repugnance is but natural, but when we overcome it for love of Jesus we may become heroic.” Disliking diapers and drool was natural! It wasn’t a sign of failure. The key is what we do with the feelings of repugnance and discouragement. Do we call it quits or persevere? Are we consumed by our own weakness, or by God’s strength? The “small things” Mother Teresa talked about are usually monotonous, dirty, and unrewarding. But they’re the secret of holiness. Doing them anyways. Doing them when you don’t feel like it. Doing them with Jesus and for Jesus.
What is great love? The world says that it’s a rush of warm, tender feelings. Christianity says that it’s the Cross. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” God showed us that love is an action, a decision. It’s practiced in service and self-sacrifice. The saints unanimously agree that love and suffering go hand-in-hand. Sometimes God gives us feelings of consolation, sometimes He withholds them. It’s our actions, not our feelings, which are true indicators of love. This doesn’t mean that the Christian life is dark and dreary, though. Just the opposite; it’s full of light and joy! But the deep joy of knowing Christ is completely different from the passing emotional highs of the world.
There’s great grace in choosing to love when tender feelings are absent. The inconstancy of my emotions forces me to my knees. It reminds me that I’m weak and in desperate need of God’s strength. My love will wax and wane, but His remains ever steadfast.
I went to Calcutta hoping to learn Mother Teresa’s secret. In an unexpected way, I did. Without Jesus, I’m nothing. As our weeks of service went on, I continued to offer Him all the little things, and ask Him to provide the love, patience, and perseverance that I lacked. I repeatedly prayed, “Jesus, I’m doing this because I love you. I need your help, your grace. I can’t do it on my own.” And He answered my prayers. Minute by minute, He gave me the strength and focus to actively choose to love.