Sunday, February 18, 2024

A Literary Hero (Part 2): Mother Teresa

"Lord, give me an open heart to find You everywhere,
to glimpse the heaven enfolded in a bud, and experience
eternity in the smallest act of love."

It was after attending a zoom event on the discussion of literary heroes that I stopped to consider who are my own bookish heroes. I always enjoy that kind of pondering, and it didn't take long for my list to form. 

In my first post on my literary heroes, I wrote about Lucy Maud Montgomery, so well-known for her creation of Anne of Green Gables. In my case, both Anne and Lucy Maud are literary heroes, Anne in my girlhood and LMM in my young adulthood. If you missed the post, you can find it HERE.

I should clarify what makes a literary hero for me. It's a person I met in a book, whether she/he is fictional or real life. These individuals made a difference in my life, and I looked up to them the way a child might look up to Superman. Through their lives, they showed me something about myself, something I needed to know. They showed me what a strong, courageous person looks like when they demonstrate selflessness and compassion amidst their own struggles, relationships, and disappointments. Usually their stories were unforgettable and stayed with me a long time, as I mulled their own discoveries about what mattered to them. I came to see that I wanted to emulate them in some way. 

Today I want to share another heroine—Mother Teresa—whose photo hangs in my mind's literary hero gallery. For many, she is a spiritual hero, but I think of her also as a literary hero, because her story and wisdom came to me through the books I read about, and by, her.

As a young woman, I was in awe of her loving service to the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, a woman who identified herself with human suffering and privation, giving herself so completely to loving God and through him loving her neighbour. What often grabbed my heart were the words she spoke with such humility and grace. Many of those wise words were etched on my heart and still resonate all these years later. Not only had I come to appreciate the inspiring things she said, but through one story she told, I found the courage to fully step into my own life, doing so without guilt or fear.

A little background to the story of how she became a hero for me. I don't know about you, but in my lifetime, I came across people who believed so strongly in their own passion and calling for their lives that somehow they implied everyone else should take up the same worthy mantle and follow in their footsteps... and if you didn't, you couldn't be doing 'God's will'. Unsure of what I should do with my own life as a searching young woman, that message settled in my heart and it caused me to worry and fret in the secret places of my mind 'how will I know... what if I miss my path'.

I wondered if Mother Teresa would be such a person, but one little story* showed me something different. The anecdote, as I remember it, was about a woman who came to work for a season with Mother Teresa. It came time for her to return to her own life and work—I think she worked in an elite beauty salon in a large city in Europe—and she wondered if she should give up her life and come work with Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa recommended she return to her home and continue her work among the privileged... because 'they need love too'. The woman went back to her own life.   *I have no idea anymore of where I read this account to confirm the details, but it's how I remember it all these years, and maybe that's best.

Those words lifted that sense of guilt I carried, where I wondered if I was pursuing the life meant for me, always with that niggle of worry it wasn't worthy enough. I settled into my life—into the joy of knowing where I lived and worked, whoever I worked with, they needed love too. I aimed to live my best life, walking in the beauty and love as best I knew how. Right where I was.

And that's how Mother Teresa became a heroine in my life. After that, I was ever on the look out for other wise words from this humble and influential woman. I found gems that have kept me company along the way, including that lovely one at the start of this post which eventually became the cornerstone for this blog. Here are a few others that continue to shine light for me:

"Never worry about numbers. Help one person
at a time and always start with the person nearest you."

"Not all of us can do great things.
But we can do small things with great love."

"If you can't feed a hundred people,
feed just one."

"I'm a little pencil in the hand of a writing God,
who is sending a love letter to the world."

"Now let us do something
beautiful for God."

I am so glad the writings of Mother Teresa came to me at a time when I needed the courage to settle into my own life path. She could never have known that her advice to one woman would help another who lived far away on another continent, in another world.

If you are interested in reading something about her, I recommend the little book Something Beautiful for God by Malcolm Muggeridge. Although biographical, it's more a tribute to her and includes a transcript of his conversations with Mother Teresa.

To close, I want to share a line I recently read in Margaret Dulaney's collection of memoirs To Hear the Forest Sing: "I cannot imagine who I might have been without the encouragement of certain sources of light along my own night's journey." This is how I feel about my literary heroes, I cannot imagine life without them.

Who is one of your favourite literary heroes?

Wishing you a beautiful week ahead,
Photo credit:
Top photo by Annette Meyer from Pixabay
Floral graphic by 


  1. Brenda, that is such a joy to read. I have always admired Mother Theresa and her selflessness. Her sayings are both true and touching. I think one of my heroes (heroines!) is Elizabeth Goudge, who came into my life when I was about 10 years old. I still have the copy of The Little White Horse that was given to me by my godfather, and treasure it. I wanted to be Maria, and live a life with a governess and raise pink geraniums!

    1. I recently purchased a copy of The Little White Horse. I've never read it, but I look forward to reading what once was a treasured book for you as a girl. Thanks, Barbara, for this glimpse into your girlhood.

  2. This is a very inspirational and thoughtful post, Brenda! Mother Teresa possessed great wisdom.

    1. Thanks so much, Nellie, for stopping by. I agree, she was a wise soul.

  3. How lovely to read that Mother Teresa's words resonated in your heart all those years ago and encouraged you along your path. She was an admirable woman, full of selflessness, yet honest in her writings about difficulties. A similar literary hero of mine is Elisabeth Elliott. I read her books and then was privileged to spend a day with her in a very unique situation, and I admired her even more afterwards.
    Thank you once again, for a wonderful post, dear Brenda.

    1. How delightful to learn you had the opportunity to actually meet and spend time with Elisabeth Elliott. What a treasured time that must have been for you. I read her story many decades ago but never pursued more of her writing as the years passed. Thanks, Lorrie, bringing her to mind.

  4. Mother Teresa's teachings are so inspiring and humble. I found encouragement from her words, particularly as a young mother when many of my friends were doing, what I thought were "bigger" things, and I was 'just' staying home with my children.

    One of my literary heroes is Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Reading her diaries and letters encouraged me in my own writing.

    1. Oh yes... Anne Morrow Lindbergh is one of my treasured heroes as well. I especially loved her Gift from the Sea and read and reread favourite underlined and starred passages over the years. I have not read any of her published letters - I must seek them out. Thanks, Karen.

  5. Another beautiful, thoughtful post, Brenda. People who hang on my literary hero wall: Ruth Bell Graham, Biddy Chambers (alongside her husband, Oswald's Chambers) - as she is the one responsible for so many of OC's words being put into print, Bruce Olsen, as read about in the book, Bruchko... And in the light fictional world, Father Tim of The Mitford Series is a sort of a hero. When reading these books and at the time found myself in situations that needed proper handling, I'd often ask myself, "What would Father Tim do?" On a more profound note, also on my literary hero wall is the fictional woman, Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letter, and the very real person of Alexander Solzhenitzyn for being a brave political writer of his time. This little exercise has made me want to pick up some reads from long ago and enjoy them all over again.

    1. Now I must go in search of Biddy Chambers. And like you, Father Tim is a sort of hero for me - he is a treasured soul. Jan Karon herself is one of my literary heroes. I followed some of her online interviews and speeches she gave over the years and came to appreciate her life so much. Alexander Solzhenitzyn is one I have admired from afar but never really dug into any of his writings. Thanks, Becki, for this lovely glimpse of a few of your literary favourites.

  6. Thank you Brenda and All, You have reminded me of a few other people ( women) who I also was familiar with at different times in my life. I would add Corrie Ten Boon. I had several of her books ( and wish I still did) but I do remember a time when I was thoroughly “deep” into her courage and faith. I’m going to have fun thinking more about this, particularly in terms of literary heroes. I also am going to put this question to my Book Club Gang to think about and be able to share next time we meet!
    Happy Day all!!!! ~ Ann from Ohio

    1. Dear Ann, I was so hoping you'd stop by and share a note. Thank you! I totally forgot about Corrie Ten Boon and, oh my, she needs to go on my literary heroes list. I learned so much from her when I was in my youth, reading her stories and hearing of the amazing lessons she learned while living in a concentration camp in WWII. I hope you and your Book Club Gang have fun exploring the question of literary heroes.

  7. Mother Teresa is indeed inspiring. I was familiar with all of these quotes but for some reason had never noticed the end of your first quote "start with the person nearest you." My goodness, that's some of the wisest advice ever.

    You have me thinking about who my literary heroes could be. Off the top of my head, they are mostly children's writers. I do admire authors who can say so much in so few words. Patricia MacLachlan (of Sarah, Plain and Tall) being my all-time favourite. She wrote a picture book entitled "All the Places to Love," which I consider one of the best books ever. It's so beautiful in so many ways.

    1. Joy, that phrase 'start with the person nearest you' startled me when I read it all those years ago. It was so instrumental in helping me to know where to start... especially when that monumental task of helping others in our global village seems so overwhelming. Just start with the person nearest you. So profound. // I love Sarah, Plain and Tall - I have never read Patricia MacLachlan's picture book "All the Places to Love" - I need to search it out. Thanks, Joy!


To My Beautiful Readers,

Some people come into our lives, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never the same. ~ Franz Peter Schubert

Thank you so much for leaving your 'footprint' here in my comment box. I do appreciate you taking a moment to share your thoughts today.

Brenda xo