There's been much press about the upcoming release of the book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light regarding Mother Teresa's "dark night of the soul".
The good news is that this revelation of her personal questions about her faith has caused a lot of folks to reevaluate what it means to have faith in the first place.
For a long time, the voice of Western evangelicalism has cited the idea attributed to Pascal that "within the human heart there is a God-shaped hole" and chased the misattribution with the misapplication that faith in Christ is the path to happiness.
But first, since I'm a big fan of Pascal, let's get the full Pascal quote, just to make sure we aren't misrepresenting him here.
Pascal did not in fact say that "there is a God-shaped vacuum in all of us." What he said was, "All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. . . . And yet, after such a great number of years, no one without faith has reached the point to which all continually look. . . . A trial so long, so continuous, and so uniform, should certainly convince us of our inability to reach the good by our own efforts. . . . he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present? But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself. He only is our true good, and since we have forsaken him, it is a strange thing that there is nothing in nature which has not been serviceable in taking His place; . . . And since man has lost the true good, everything can appear equally good to him, even his own destruction, though so opposed to God, to reason, and to the whole course of nature." (Pensees 6.425)
Thus the hole Pascal speaks of is "happiness shaped". That one can only FIND ultimate happiness in God is a separate question - though in the quoted passage, Pascal does intimate that separately.
The idea that having God in our hearts and lives will lead us to a sense of happiness is deeply engrained in Christian thought at the beginning of the 21st century. But this concept presents some difficult problems.
Regarding the idea of happiness itself, I think the problem for me personally is in regards more expectations and perspective than to faith.
When I consider my life, then attempt to objectively consider the lives of those around me, I recognize that I have an incredible wealth of fortune in practically every category. I recognize that I am really "living the dream". This simple act of reflection and objective circumspection is often the nudge I need to boost my attitude and my mood. Thus, reflection and circumspection, to me, are essential parts of what it means to find peace and happiness.
It is also instructive to reflect that when evaluated, the happiest people tend not to be the folks with the most physical or temporal wealth - or even, it seems, who live in countries that are democratic, liberal or non-violent. Thus, the happiest people live in Nigeria, Mexico, Venezuela, El Salvador and Puerto Rico. Not high on my list of vacation spots. Happiness must reside, ultimately, in things that aren't on the American consumer's shopping list. In fact, the factors that make people happy tend to be (sigh) genetics, marriage, low expectations, faith (religious or not), having and valuing friends.
I think there's a lot to be said about how the consumerist mentality has distorted the message of the gospel over the last century and a half. We've followed the American method of trying to convince people that our "product" is the solution to their need for happiness. Thus, you've gotten all kinds of "marketing distortions" added to the gospel to try to "sell" the gospel as this happiness tonic - things like charismata, health-and-wellness, prosperity, the moral majority/politicization of fundamentalism, etc. are all the results, in part, of trying to "find" something in Christianity that will "sell" to the needs of the "consumer".
Most Christians tend to evangelize based on the idea that God and church will make people happy and meet their needs. But the underlying flaws are at least twofold.
One: it isn't true. While there are certain studies that indicate having faith makes one happier, this isn't limited to Christianity - nor is the happiness solution limited to faith (or even dominated by it).
Two: it sets up an immediately defeatable position. Are we then claiming that folks can't be happy without God or the church? If so, we're going to have a hard time with the message because there's just an abundance of evidence to suggest the contrary.
The message of the church should be living a Christian life - serving others in humility - not because it will win converts, but because it's the right way to live. If this effects people to consider Jesus, all the better - but that's not our problem.
Regarding the second part of my own personal evaluative technique: expectations, I would say that I don't expect my orientation toward God to make me "happy" (whatever that might mean). I expect it to be a part of what makes me more human and more complete, but that may or may not be coincident with personal happiness.
What does all that say about our own "dark nights of the soul"? That they are in all likelihood not at all related to faith, but are more likely related to our circumstances, genetics, attitudes and objective awareness. Focus on these things, and trust that God is still God and is and will be faithful.
In the comments to Al Sturgeon's recent post, Amy Hitt wrote "we will all feel like something is missing in our lives until we get on our unique, purposeful path" . To me, this is what the Good News is about - making me what God intended me to be. Unfortunately, we tend to define that almost entirely in moral/behavioral terms (due to our bent toward legalism and control), rather than in existential terms.
As Kierkegaard said,"[a]nd now, with God's help, I will become myself."