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Into every life, a “dark night of the soul” must come. These are times where we feel no light, no direction; and no support from God. Our anguished cries beseech: “Heavenly Father, where are you?” “Do you know who I am?” “Do you love me?” “Do you know what I’m going through?”
These trials often surround our greatest yearnings. The stronger the desire, it seems, the greater the obstacle is put in our path to achieve it. In this process of overcoming we transcend our old selves and become someone who can help others in a deeper and more expansive way.
Case in point: One of the most influential and inspiring women of the 20th century was Mother Teresa. It’s possible that she has influenced more for good than any other woman in recent history; profoundly touching millions, and receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts, because people could feel such love, compassion and light through her. What most people DON’T know, is that Mother Teresa had an excruciating trial of interior darkness for more than 50 years! Her heart-wrenching story seems to be a “type” for dealing with trials.
How It Started
Mother Teresa’s pure heart desire was to love and be loved by God. With her whole being she wanted to “love Jesus as He’s never been loved before.” She felt that she was called by God to help the people that no one else wanted; (the lepers, the street children, the prostitutes, the drug addicts, those dying in the streets etc.) She felt that everyone deserved the love of God, and it was her mission to help them feel it, however, at the very time that she began her work doing what she felt God had expressly asked her to do, she began to feel a pitch-black darkness enveloping her soul; a complete spiritual void.
Pain of Longing
In 1961, in one of many heartrending letters to her superior, Father Neuner, she confided: “Darkness is such that I really do not see—neither with my mind nor with my reason—the place of God in my soul is blank—There is no God in me—When the pain of longing is so great—I just long & long for God- and then it is that I feel – He does not want me – … The torture and pain I can’t explain.” (Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, p. 210.) As years went by, she continued to echo the same theme: “As for me – what will I tell you? I have nothing – since I have not got Him – whom my heart & soul longs to possess. Aloneness is so great…If there is hell – this must be one. How terrible it is to be without God.” (p. 249-250) The thing she wanted most was denied her. She felt profoundly rejected unwanted and unloved. Many people can relate to these agonizing feelings during a deep trial.
She Learned What We Can Learn
Over time, Father Neuner, helped Teresa realize that these feelings of abandonment could actually be used to increase her understanding of and compassion for the people she served. She started to identify her suffering with that of Christ’s suffering. This opened her up to a new perspective, which helped her to accept her plight. She began to lay this darkness at the feet of Jesus and she told Him He could use her in any way He wanted, EVEN if she was required to remain in that inner blackness forever. In deep humility she surrendered everything!
Turns out this ACCEPTENCE and SURRENDERING are part of a PROCESS that all who want to really know the Lord need to experience.
A Process To Godliness
Neal A. Maxwell talks about this process:
“President Brigham Young said of a geographical destination, ‘This is the place’, of God’s plan of salvation, with its DEVELOPMENTAL destination, it can be said, ‘THIS IS THE PROCESS!’ President Young, who knew something about trial and tribulation but also of man’s high destiny, said that the Lord lets us pass through these experiences that we might become true friends of God. By developing our individual capacities, wisely exercising our agency, and trusting God – including when we feel forsaken and alone – then we can, said President Young, learn to be ‘righteous in the dark.’ The gospel glow we see radiating from some – amid dark difficulties – comes from illuminated individuals who are of good cheer. To be cheerful when others are in despair, to keep the faith when others falter, to be true even when we feel forsaken – all of these are deeply desired outcomes during the deliberate, divine tutorials, which God gives to us – because He loves us. These learning experiences must not be misread as divine indifference. Instead, such tutorials are a part of the divine unfolding. Neal A. Maxwell, CR, Oct 1983, p. 97)
Mother Teresa’s darkness did not diminish, nor did the anguish subside, but she began to accept her trial instead of fighting against it. The biggest shift to her being however came when she began to be thankful for it. After 11 years of blackness, she told her superiors, “For the first time in this 11 years – I have come to love the darkness—for I believe now that it is a part a very, very small part of Jesus’ darkness and pain on earth. “ (Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light p. 208) It began to dawn on her that her interior climate was an expression of the desperate, despondent people she was “called” to help. She marveled that they could feel Christ’s light radiating through her even though she couldn’t feel it.
From this realization forward she continually wrote about giving “a hearty ‘YES’ to God, and a big ‘SMILE’ to all,” (p. 219) no matter how she was feeling. She was undergoing the process that we all must in some way undergo.
The biggest hurdle we face in potential growth in trials is that we spend so much energy trying to get out of them rather than accepting them. We tend to resist the very things that are designed to refine or enlighten us. If instead, we will surrender to God’s will instead of our own, the opposition lessens, and often this is the interval in which the trial disappears, or the purpose for it becomes clear. We need to let the Lord expand us in His own way.
Applying the Atonement into our lives is all about us getting to the point where we are willing to submit to His will and let Him work THROUGH us. He helps us shift from ignorance and suffering to understanding and liberation.
Shifting a Trial From Bad to Good
1. Accept it!
Allow this circumstance to BE. Stop fighting it. Consider the possibility that it may be for your best good in the long run. Is this your “thorn in the flesh” that Paul talked about? Can you accept God’s will – whatever that is? Can you rely on the assurance that “my grace is sufficient for you.” (2 Cor 12:7-9)
Even though it may not seem possible that this could be God’s will for you, surrender it to Him. Say “YES” to God no matter what! Surrender everything that you have and are to Him. Put yourself completely at His disposal- to do with you as HE wills.
Elder Bednar said: “Believing Him with our whole soul comes as we…surrender our will to His and submit to His priorities and timing for us.” (David A. Bednar “If Ye Had Known Me,”October Conference 2016)
3. Thank God for the Trial
Whether you feel it or not, – if you have turned to the Lord in your trial, you are growing. Our pre-existent selves wanted to see ourselves overcoming major difficulties. It could be that our “higher selves” are gratified and elated in this tribulation BECAUSE of the stretching we’re experiencing. The bottom line with God is progression. He’s in the business of helping us to become perfect. “But the God of all grace…, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect…” (1 Peter 5:10)
When we get to a point where we can rejoice in this prospect for perfection, there is often an intensified insight waiting for us.
Mother Teresa learned much from her agonizing trial. Few have experienced such an extended “dark night of the soul”, that was required of her. Because of the “price” she paid, and her realization that there was purpose in this pain, she was made an instrument of peace and light to millions.
Jeffrey Holland profoundly wrote:
So if your prayers seem unanswered, take heart…If sometimes the harder you try, the harder it gets, take heart. So it has been with the best people who ever lived….It is not easy to go without – physical gratifications, or spiritual assurances, or material possessions—but sometimes we must since there is no guarantee of convenience written into our Christian covenant. We must work hard and do right, and sometime our chance will come. And when we’ve tried, really tried, and waited for what seemed never to be ours, then the angels may come minister unto us. For that ministration in your life I pray…” (, Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Inconvenient Messiah,” BYU Devotional Feb 2, 1982).
What “divine unfolding” is about to take place in your life?
What have you been required to do to become your divine self? What are you called to experience to fill YOUR destiny? Whatever it is will tear at your heartstrings and slash the very fabric of your soul – but THIS is the way! THIS is the path that will ultimately help you touch the most souls here on earth and bring you the absolute most joy in this life and hereafter. Let’s embrace our trials as God’s way of expanding us upwards into Godliness.
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