I just finished reading Mother Teresa’s letters in a book called, ‘Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light’ I am spiritual (but not religious) and when I think of a handful of people who spread a global message of love, Mother Teresa is one of them. With few financial resources or education of her own Mother Teresa made huge improvements in the world. Her light continues to shine on us even after her death, inspiring us by her example. She started off a nun with a calling, all on her own. In the beginning, she had 13 members on her mission in Calcutta and this grew to 4,000 nuns and 610 missions in over 123 countries. For 45 years she ministered to the poor, sick, orphaned and dying. So it was interesting to me to learn a bit about how she accomplished all this and how that journey was for her.
As the ‘NY Love Examiner’ there’s no one better to examine as a ‘giver of love’ than her. You may think, ‘Well how can I compare myself to Mother Teresa when my dreams are so small by comparison?’ I often hear people wish that they could write a book, form a school, found a charity, sing in public etc. but their reasons not to try include a lack of education, feelings of self-doubt, alienation, lack of money and support, doubt of their personal talent etc. and all these ideas seem to stop them before they even begin! We all have many obstacles to creation and there may be many uncomfortable sacrifices to be made with mixed successes along the way, but does that mean that we should not try? And, what are some tips we could learn from luminaries who have paved the way?
I took away 12 tips from what I read of Mother Teresa’s experience and I wondered whether they might be applicable to those of us with much smaller dreams. You decide:
1. PERSISTENCE THROUGH MUCH REJECTION: After her calling, Mother Teresa wanted to start her mission right away but she was met with much waiting and questioning. Even though she was determined to start immediately she chose to continuously write letters to key people in the church until they finally agreed to her mission. Sometimes she knew she was annoying them by her persistence. They even repeatedly told her to pray and to let them consider it for awhile but she continued to write to them nonetheless. She was willing to keep taking action in the face of rejection and disapproval.
2. BLIND FAITH EVEN THROUGH LONG PERIODS OF DARKNESS: In the beginning Mother Teresa heard the voice of Jesus and felt close to him but her writings reveal that in many later periods of suffering, she did not. She knew what her mission was so she continued to do it even when her faith or feelings seemed to falter. She believed that if she kept on doing what she committed to do, her purpose would be served.
3. HIGHER PURPOSE: Mother Teresa felt that her global mission was to help the unwanted, suffering and poor to feel a sense of love and belonging. Anything that did not reflect that purpose was not of interest to her. She had a laser like focus and her myriad of activities and travel were all parts of that particular focus.
4. SUPPORT: Although Mother Teresa seemed to keep a lot of her suffering quiet, she prayed daily to Jesus and found comfort in writing regular correspondence to a few spiritual colleagues. She confessed her doubts to them and asked them to pray for her. This was an outlet that she had when she felt very alone in her mission. It can be important to have a few people or a team of people to advise you and listen to you when you falter.
5. A CLEAR MISSION: Mother Teresa could simply define her mission statement from the start. She knew who she was and what she would do in light of it and she steadfastly embraced opportunities to make it happen throughout a 45 year period.
6. ACT ON COMMITTMENT NOT FEELINGS: Mother Teresa reveals long periods of aloneness, despair and darkness. During these times she acknowledges her feelings of despair but she continues to act in accordance with her mission and plan, regardless of her internal emotional state, external results or community commentary.
7. CONCENTRATE ON OTHERS NOT ON ONESELF: Mother Teresa often separated herself from the work that she did. Since she was religious, she acted for Jesus and gave him all the credit for everything that happened. This kept her modest and she often referred to herself as ‘a little bird.’ If she did speeches, it was because it would glorify his name or his cause. Personally she often professed that staying in India and doing her simple work there as a nun was her preference. Also, her focus was on helping the poor and unwanted feel loved. She did not think much of her own needs, status or comfort. This selflessness helped her stay focused on constant achievement and helped her not be swayed by pride, greed, fame or her personal desires.
8. FINDING MEANING IN SETBACKS & PERIODS OF SUFFERING: At first Mother Teresa was bewildered by the darkness that she felt and the absence of Jesus in her daily life because she had felt such a closeness with him before. Later one of her spiritual advisors suggested to her that perhaps there was a purpose to this suffering. Perhaps it helped her identify both with Jesus’ own experience and the experience of the poor that she was helping. This process of understanding and ‘making meaning’ of her pain helped her to work through it. Likewise, in any endeavor there will be setbacks but we can continue to create meaning from these experiences so we can use that new knowledge to move us forward.
9. IDENTIFY WITH & REALLY JOIN WITH YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE: From the beginning Mother Teresa wrote that there were missionaries for the rich and middle class but no one cared for the poor in the slums and the dark holes of India. Even when she gained in fame and resources, Mother Teresa remained focused upon this particular population. She chose from the beginning to take a vow of poverty, to have her and her nuns dress simply and to work where the poor that she served lived. This helped her to really understand what they went through. Similarly, many pr people suggest that you choose a niche or specialty so you can know a lot about a small area. This builds trust, experience and can allow you to focus more on really knowing your target audience.
10. BE WILLING TO GIVE UP DISTRACTIONS & COMFORTS THAT DETER FROM YOUR MISSION: Mother Teresa left her family, home land and even the parish she loved to go to India, a place that was quite foreign to her. She relied on her faith that this is how she was needed and could serve best. She gave up living in the nice safe parish and started her mission by begging and trying to find any space with which to begin. Often it was hard to find food or resources but she continued her mission in the face of hardships, constantly looking for new creative ways to help and improve things. I smile when I think about how today we tell ourselves that we need 6 months living expenses, a large budget, a board of trustees etc before beginning a new venture. It is good to plan but often taking action will direct the next step. Also, we do not need to take a vow of poverty to keep this spiritual principle in mind. Perhaps you will make a sacrifice of giving up television or an hour of sleep in order to focus on your dream.
11. CREATE A CLEAR BUSINESS/MISSION PLAN: When she first approached the church to approve her new mission, one of the things that Mother Teresa was asked to do was pray, reflect and answer some practical questions about her plan. They asked her to answer these 9 questions:
1-What exactly and in detail do you want to do?
2-Which are the means by which you desire to bring it about?
3- How would you form your disciples?
4-What kind of people would you recruit for this work?
5-Where would be the center of your work?
6-Is it not possible to obtain this end by congregations already in existence?
7-Would it be more conducive to use a kind of association or sodality?
8-What are your possibilities of success?
Some of the aforementioned questions may be specific to her religious order but many could apply to thinking through any dream or mission. It can be inspiring to look up how to write a business plan so that you can concretize your vision and identify practical steps to making it a reality.
12. BE WILLING TO BEGIN WITH BABY STEPS: When Mother Teresa first began her mission she had 5 rubles and one sister to go with her to face overwhelming hardship, sickness and poverty. She did not have a following, a budget, a headquarters, an advertising budget or savings, board of trustees etc. She chose one thing to do that day that was alignment with her broader vision and she did it. She often said, ‘If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed one.’ She also said, ‘We cannot do great things on this earth, only small things with great love.’
I hope this gives you inspiration to act on your dreams of loving yourself and others in this life, beginning today. Check out her book for inspiration. I’ve included some relevant links below.
If you have further tips for making your dreams happen, please share them below. We can all use encouragement!
My Best in Love,
Author of ‘Dating from the Inside Out: How to Use the Law of Attraction in Matters of the Heart’ published by Atria Books.