Did you know Mother Teresa didn’t even want to become a nun? When she was 12 years old, she wanted to become a missionary to the poor. However, when she learned that she could only become a missionary if she first became a nun, she changed her mind. “I didn’t want to be a nun,” she recalled years later in an interview with an Italian journalist (later recorded in Teresa of the Poor by Renzo Allegri). So she put her missionary dreams on hold.
Six years later, when she was 18 and the time for choosing a vocation had become imminent, she found her desire to serve the poor remained unchanged. If becoming a missionary required that she first become a nun, then so be it, she decided. This time, she took her holy orders.
After her novitiate period, Teresa’s superiors sent her to teach in a prestigious high school for wealthy girls in India. This was not the life she had in mind when she committed her life to the convent, as it was a far cry from serving the poor and disenfranchised of the world, but she kept at it for eighteen years. Eighteen years! And during that time, out of obedience, she worked at it with all her heart. She did not look to the right or left. She committed herself firmly to her students and her colleagues and was quickly beloved and admired by all. Eventually, they named her principal of the school.
Then one night in August 1946, she was in the train station on her way to a weeklong private retreat in Darjeeling and found herself surrounded by the homeless, the fatherless, and the poorest of the poor. It was the night she later referred to as “the night of her conversion”—the moment her eyes were fully opened to the misery of her brothers and sisters in the world, and the moment she saw Christ in each and every one of them.
In that moment, Teresa knew that Christ was calling her into a brand new kind of life. She had no idea what it would entail, and it ended up costing her a great deal. “No Catholic religious congregation had set forth the ideals that Mother Teresa intended to carry out,” Renzo Allegri wrote in his book. “The new plan she had for her life was unheard-of, highly unusual, and totally unfamiliar within traditional church organizations.” But she decided to fulfill it anyway. After all, she had pledged her life to Christ, and as His bride she needed to carry out the plans she distinctly believed He was calling her to do.
What I find so enrapturing about this part of Mother Teresa’s story is her undivided obedience for those eighteen years before she received permission to pursue the truest desires of her heart. Even though the girls she taught in the high school regularly visited the poor communities right outside their cloistered walls, Teresa never accompanied them or spoke with them about it. She had committed herself to what God and her superiors asked of her in that present moment, and she did it unwaveringly until He or they spoke otherwise. How many of us would do the same?