A Great Insight from Mother Teresa

This past weekend Connie and I spent some time in Boone, North Carolina, a college town with some good restaurants, a fantastic bakery, and several of those trinket shops that capture on wall plaques expressions of human wisdom too big to fit on bumper stickers.

I’m not referring to those syrupy sayings that adorn the walls of serendipity shops. No, these mottos encompass substantive, down to earth brilliance. One such chunk of human insight that comes to mind says this, “Going shopping with your husband is like going hunting with the game warden.” Think of the marriages that this insight might save. And this one also made a lasting impression: “The last thing I want to do is annoy you, but it is on my list.” What a lesson in honest communication.

In the midst of these profound insights, my attention was arrested by a genuinely spiritually meaningful quotation assigned to Mother Teresa that stated this:

People are often unreasonable and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you.
Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it never may be enough.
Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

In doing some research on this saying, some contend that this did not originate with Mother Teresa but rather it is from a poem entitled “The Paradoxical Commandments” by Kent M. Keith. Mother Teresa has been accredited with it because she had it hanging on the wall of Shishu Bhavan, the children’s home in Calcutta.

I was able to trace all but the last lines to the writings of Kent M. Keith. However, I could not find those final lines in the renditions that were attributed to him. I can’t be sure, but I sense that Mother Teresa may have borrowed the major portion of this motto from Keith and added those concluding thoughts: “For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway,” which for me provided its profound meaning.

Of course, we cannot say in the absolute sense, “It never was between you and them anyway,” because the second commandment is to love our neighbor, so that which is between God and us also circumscribes others.

However, the context is not referring to loving our neighbor but rather our response to the criticism, ill will, and opposition of others, or even seeking the approval of others.
How many of our feelings, our attitudes, our decisions, and our actions are influenced by either the criticisms of others or the desire for their affirmation? How often have we felt sorry for ourselves because of the unkindness of others? How many times has their criticism discouraged us? I wonder about the extent to which the negative attitudes of others has influenced my decisions and behaviors.

Likewise, to what extent have we endeavored to be a people pleaser? Though being a people pleaser may appear to be loving, it dawned on me some years ago that this objective was profoundly selfish. It entails wanting people to like us. Therefore, the focus is not on benefitting others but ourselves.

This maxim by Mother Teresa cuts through all of that, shifting our focus to where it should be. It clears away so much of the emotional clutter of life.

Perhaps the verse that I have found most challenging is 2 Corinthians 5:15, “And that he died for all that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and rose again.” That formula excludes the issues of life to Christ and me. As already noted, this also envelops ministry to others as an extension of living for Christ. However, it excludes being affected either by criticism or praise. These have no place in the formula. Or as Mother Teresa stated it, “For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”

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