Jeremy Statton

Living Better Stories

Mother Teresa’s Ingredients to a Better Story

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If taking a shortcut to a better story never works, then what what does the long road look like?

Instead of telling you, I offer an example.

The Story

She was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Skopje on August 26, 1910. At the age of 18 she joined the Sisters of Loreto with the goal of being in India to help those in need.

At the age of 38 she started the Missionaries of Charity, taking a vow of poverty, and dedicating her life to serve the poor.

We know her as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.

We know her as the little lady who ate with presidents and kings.

We know her Gallup’s most admired person of the 20th Century.

Yet she personally owned nothing. She wore the same clothes everyday, a white sari with blue trim. In nearly every picture of her, her face is worn with wrinkles.

We know her as Mother Teresa.

photo by Trey Ratcliff (creative commons)

The Mission

I obviously admire her story, and I hope you do too. But it is important to understand what is is about and how she wrote it.

What was her mission?

In her own words:

To care for “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.

Her mission influenced the choices she made. Her mission influenced what she defined as success. In fact, what we view as her successes wasn’t what she aimed for at all.

She felt she would be successful if she would be able to help only one person. That would be enough.

She did not desire notoriety. She did not desire influence. She did not desire accolades.

And of course, she helped many more than one.

The Ingredients

1. Time to Mature. She did not start Missionaries of Charity until 20 years after becoming a nun. Twenty years to grow and learn. Twenty years to pray and trust. Every day of the 20 prepared her for her bigger story.

No matter who you are or your place in life, now is the time to work towards your better story.

2. Starting Small. When she began, it was only her. When she walked out of her convent, she only had 5 rupees and the clothes on her back. There was literally no one to help her. She describes walking long distances just to find food to eat and water to drink.

When you do begin, you will likely be alone. Begin anyways.

3. Understanding Success. She never made it her goal to become famous. She didn’t even necessarily set out to create an order with 1500 members. She wanted to help one. This defined success for her. If she could make a difference in one life.

4. Bigger than Ourselves. Mother Teresa never felt adequate to do the work she started. She never felt that she knew enough or had enough skills. She even questioned her commitment and passion. She began, always trusting God to work through her.

5. Love. The goal of the Missionary of Charities wasn’t necessarily to convert. It wasn’t to teach theological doctrine. It wasn’t to increase the numbers of the church. Her goal was to help. To care for those who had nothing themselves. To show the love of Jesus through acts of love.

6. Sacrifice. Mother Teresa did nothing for own sake, but was always seeking the good of others. This desire led her to sacrifice her own comfort and life.

We admire her work, but Mother Teresa was someone none of us would want to be. Her life is something none of us would want to choose for ourselves.

But the people that have been touched buy the story lived out by Mother Teresa, their souls will exist forever. And her acts of unmerited love will be remembered.

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About Jeremy Statton

Jeremy is a writer and an orthopedic surgeon. When not ridding the world of pain, he helps you live a better story. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook or Google +.

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16 Replies

  1. DDF

    Jeremy … thank you so much for writing about Mother Teresa. She was a remarkable women indeed. I have now read (twice) the book by Brian Kolodiejchuk called “Come Be my Light — The private Writings of the ‘Sain of Calcutta.'” … Here you find the incredible truth about the inner essence of Mother Teresa. … that there were years during her serving the poor that she did not herself feel close to God, did not in fact feel much of anything toward God, and even felt abandoned by God sometimes.

    She loved God, prayed diligently, stepped out in faith and kept doing what she felt God told her to do. But talk about a dark night of the soul. Incredible. So we can’t live a “better story” with this condition: God, if I do this I have to feel good about it all the time. If I’m going to sacrifice like this, my one condition is that I get to regularly have the best quiet times in the world.

    I think Mother Teresa would say, “Good luck with that, pal.”

    No, we live a better story because the Spirit of Jesus (living inside us) compels us to it. Where did any of us read, anyway, about getting to put conditions on how it will make us feel? “Let the dead bury their own dead. As for you, come and follow me.”

    So if you want to live the “better story” like Mother Teresa did (Jeremy is absolutely right in saying this!!), you might want consider reading “Come Be my Light.” Ingest some of her private musings where she does not feel God’s presence, where in fact she feels abandoned by God entirely from time to time.

    And then simply ask yourself, “Do I have enough money to build this thing?” Please live a better story. You have to — for the sake of God’s Kingdom. But not because you get to feel this way or that way about God as you journey. … Living a better story means counting the cost. But don’t let that keep you from jumping all the way in. Jeremy is right about jumping in. Keep preaching it, Jeremy. Let’s just be sure that does not negate counting the cost.

  2. Love the story of Mother Teresa…the benefit of starting small is something I have to constantly remind myself of. I want to make a big splash, but I need to learn to “swim” first.

  3. Love this line: “When you do begin, you will likely be alone. Begin anyways.”

    There is always an allure to wait until you KNOW success is imminent before even starting the journey. This mindset so often ends up leading us to stagnation. As a newer writer, I have to remind myself that the vision I have is for me, from God. Others may join me along the way. Either way, the obedient steps are mine to take.

    I seem to so easily forget this. Thank you for the reminder

  4. Very inspiring, Jeremy. Thank you.

    (another thing people forget about a woman with such a fruitful life is that she had DECADES of a “dark night of the soul” experience. It pained her to sense such silence from God in her prayer time and not experience a “felt” sense of God. But, it may have made her work/ministry the exceptional kind of amazing work it was. Sometimes it seems in our pain and the obscurity of our path, even the times of spiritual dryness, can produce such transformative love and compassion for others.)

  5. Lots of great take-a-ways from your post Jeremy. Starting small, taking time to mature, sacrifice. Great illustration to make your points. Thanks for sharing. It reminds me to persist with patience, and know that it’s not always easy or glamorous.

  6. I had the privilege of working with the Missionaries of Charity when I living was in Calcutta. They’re the most impactful ministry in that city. Mother Teresa had such an impact there. Great article.

  7. “At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by ‘I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.’ ” ~ Mother Teresa… While the world sees diplomas and degrees as a successful story, Mother Teresa sees only love. Oh, that I could live such a story!

  8. I agree Debra. It is so simple, but still so hard.

  9. Wow. I would love to hear more about it.

  10. Glamour will only come as a side product of the hard work. And it isn’t the greatest benefit either.

  11. She viewed her suffering as a gift. That she was chosen especially for it so she could enter into the sufferings of Jesus.

  12. Writing might be the loneliest thing I have ever done.

  13. Swim, open your eyes under water, keep water out of your nose. And yes, then splash.

  14. “Come Be My Light,” was the primary inspiration for this post. Glad you mentioned it.

  15. I used to envision a big ministry on the other side of the beginning. I don’t care anymore. I love the giving, the excitement of showing up, the connection of souls. I really don’t care about the notoriety anymore, because I’m realizing there’s something better, partnership with God’s heart. Great article, Mother Theresa’s life is an amazing paradox to learn from.

  16. I think you are on the right track.

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