Mother Teresa, now Saint Teresa of Calcutta, received the Nobel Peace Prize and is still one of the most admired beings on earth. As a Catholic, I had deep admiration for this tiny yet powerful woman who had founded the Missionaries of Charity, a congregation of more than 4,500 nuns working primarily in India but also in more than 100 other countries, giving “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.
My work with The Hunger Project had taken me to India several times, beginning in 1983, but it was not until 1991 that my long dream of being with Mother Teresa came true. A friend arranged a meeting at the orphanage in Old Delhi. As I stepped to the door, I reached down to pick up what I thought was a discarded newspaper and was shocked to find that it held a small newborn baby girl, the tiniest human being I had ever seen. I carried the precious being into the orphanage and handed her to one of the nuns. The nuns immediately put me to work washing, feeding, and caring for the 50 or so children under two. Enthralled with this blessed work, I lost track of time until someone told me, “Mother Teresa will see you now.”
Smiling and radiant, Mother Teresa grasped my head in her gnarly hands and led me to a table and chairs to talk. Through tears I could not seem to stop from flowing, I told her of my commitment to the work of ending world hunger. She knew of my fundraising focus and acknowledged me warmly for the courage it took. She called herself “God’s pencil” and bestowed that description on me as well. In the huge presence of this tiny person, I felt an unconditional love and connectedness to the universe that had me vibrating—until our intimate conversation was interrupted by the noisy appearance of two very large, very opulently dressed Indians.
Apparently, this couple, covered in gold and jewels, had been there previously and crashed into our conversation because, as the woman interrupted, “We didn’t get a picture. We need to have a picture!” Without any greeting to either of us, the woman abruptly handed me her camera and then positioned Mother Teresa between them. She rudely grabbed her chin to force her to look up at her. Shocked and horrified, I took the pictures, and the couple left without so much as a thank-you. While I seethed in anger at the intrusion, Mother Teresa carried on with me as if nothing had happened—though I could barely hear her through my upset. We parted, embracing each other, and I cried. Departing, I got in my taxi still fully enraged.
Over the next several hours I had a searing revelation about what had just happened. In the presence of one of the most inspiring human beings on the planet, I had been reduced to hatred and prejudice. While Mother Teresa could see this couple as children of God, deserving of the same kind of love and respect that she gave to the orphans in her care, I had judged them as rude, overbearing, and ugly, unworthy of inclusion in my circle of love. When I realized that I had to confront my own prejudice and lack of compassion, I felt great shame, and I wrote Mother Teresa asking for both her forgiveness and her counsel.
She responded a few weeks later in a handwritten letter admonishing me that while I felt it easy to feel compassion for people living in circumstances of hunger and poverty, I had not yet embraced the entitled, the wealthy, and the powerful— people who actually needed compassion as much as anyone on earth. She could see Christ in everyone, and I could not. “You must expand your circle of compassion to include the rich and powerful. Open your heart to them. . . . Do not shut them out. They are also your work.”
What brought me to Mother Teresa’s orphanage on that particular day at the time of that wealthy couple’s visit? I believe it was a gift from Source that launched me in my life’s work of understanding and communicating universal truths about money and life.
The above is an excerpt from Living a Committed Life: Finding Freedom and Fulfillment in a Purpose Larger Than Yourself (2022; Berrett-Koehler) by Lynne Twist. All Rights Reserved
Lynne Twist has been a recognized global visionary committed to alleviating poverty, ending world hunger, and supporting social justice and sustainability for more than forty years. She is also the cofounder of the Pachamama Alliance and founder of the Soul of Money Institute. She is the bestselling author of The Soul of Money, which has sold over 200,000 copies worldwide and has been translated into nine languages and Living a Committed Life. For more information, please visit https://soulofmoney.org/