I spent a month in India seven years ago, serving the elderly with the Missionaries of Charity (the order founded by Mother Teresa). Every day the volunteers could go to Mass with the sisters, eat a light breakfast, and then head to morning volunteer work. There would be a break for lunch and then afternoon work followed by a holy hour back at the house.
It was the hardest month of my life in many ways. The work was draining, and the intense heat meant that you never stopped sweating. And while I thought the experience would bring me joy and fulfillment, instead it left me exhausted and overwhelmed. But I learned a lot about myself and a lot about service and prayer that month. Those lessons have come in handy in the past six months. What I learned from the way Mother Teresa lived, and the way she set up her sisters’ daily schedule, has helped me stay sane during the upheaval around me.
Keep to a schedule
The morning started with chai (tea) and bananas. Then during morning work, you’d have another tea break. Same with afternoon work, which happened after lunch. On Thursdays, you wouldn’t work. It was a day of prayer for the sisters. The predictability of the daily and weekly schedule kept me grounded. And the breaks for prayer and tea were welcome and necessary. Even the 20-minute walks to and from volunteer work every day were a part of the order and schedule I came to love.
Many of us are not leaving the house as much anymore. And if you have to quarantine for a couple of weeks at any point, you may start going crazy. I know I have. How to fix that? Institute a better schedule. Wake up at a similar time each day. Plan for morning and afternoon work with scheduled breaks in between. If you’re not working, find something that needs to get done. What needs to be cleaned? Cooked? Tidied? What finance tasks have you been avoiding? Use at least one of your breaks to get outside, whether that be a walk or just sitting on the front steps.
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Learn to see the good in people you disagree with
Mother Teresa saw Christ in the dying, diseased, and abandoned people on the streets. That’s what prompted her to start caring for them.
At home, we might struggle to see Christin the people in our homes whom we don’t normally see this much, or on our Facebook feeds, whose posts about the pandemic, politics, or about racism make us want to pull our hair out. But, it’s possible and necessary, no matter how crazy or wrong-headed you think their posts are. Find Christ in them.
Same goes for your coworkers who loudly voice their opinions about current events that are the exact opposite of yours. At the very least, pray for the people whose comments irritate you the most.
I have a vivid memory of being on the bus in India, and two Missionary of Charity sisters getting on. When I looked over a few minutes later, I realized that their lips were silently moving in prayer. That made me think, how was I spending my time on the bus? What other “in between” times of my day could I be praying?
So now I look at my life and think about those times. Waiting for curbside pick up at the grocery store? Say a few Hail Marys. Doing a monotonous chore? Speak to God from your heart in thanksgiving for the day. Frustrated in the evening and scrolling through Instagram to get over it? Click away, put the phone down, and offer that frustration up in prayer instead. You’ll sleep better with your last few minutes spent in prayer than you would with more boxes and captions to fill your mind anyway.
If we become a praying people who want the best for those we disagree with, and our lives are organized and ordered no matter what craziness is going on, what a peaceful life we could lead. And that peace could truly affect and lift up others along the way. Mother Teresa, pray for us!
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