3 Things Men Can Learn From Mother Teresa’s Letter To Women

by Marriage, Saints, September

We need one another. As men, we need strong women. We need their support. Women need strong men and need their support as well. When it comes to being men and women, we desperately need to be and remain GROUNDED, to avoid getting caught up and carried away by ambiguity/extremes/caricatures. One way to do this is to fill our minds with the thoughts and words of wise men and women who are themselves grounded. A great example is Mother Teresa and her letter to women (full text here). As men, this letter is important because it reveals three key ways that we as men can support the women in our lives, and in doing so, we become better men ourselves.

3 Things Men Can Learn From Mother Teresa’s Letter To Women

1) We can learn humility. Mother Teresa writes, “All God’s gifts are good, but they are not all the same. As I often say to people who tell me that they would like to serve the poor as I do, ‘What I can do, you cannot. What you can do, I cannot. But together, we can do something beautiful for God.’ It is just this way with the differences between women and men.” 

As men, we tend to judge ourselves (often harshly) by what we can and cannot do. Competition and excellence drive us. The most often cited example is in the workplace, but the drive to perform is not limited to that context. I’ve known men who volunteer at church, run ministries, even pursue the diaconate to prove their worth. Regardless of the sphere of life, we as men struggle with the idea that we’re only worth what we do.

How, then, do we, as men, generally take it when someone can do what we cannot? Often, we do not take it well. We strive to outcompete or sometimes descend to belittling the contributions or gifts of others. Unfortunately, women are often the bearers of this prideful negativity. Women, being different, are a phenomenal check for that pride, being equal in dignity to us and yet different. The question, then, for us men is this: Can we get ourselves and our performance mindsets and truly honor and value the good that is woman? Do our actions and speech uphold the dignity of women? In reality, we all struggle in various ways. For example, I often assume that my way to parent or handle something at home is better. I might “let” my wife do it her way, but of course, it would be more efficient if I did it (in my mind). This can be a fleeting and subtle thought that we can easily dismiss as a joke, but in reality, it undermines what Mother Teresa is teaching us–that all goods need not be the same. My wife’s approach, in her femininity, may be VERY different from how I might handle a situation, and I have to guard against assuming that mine is better. I must have the humility not only to stand back and give her space to work but also to truly appreciate her and be willing to support what she’s doing. 

St. Thomas Aquinas called humility the queen of virtues. Indeed, the greatest example of humility in all history was the unassuming “yes” of a young single girl in Nazareth. As men, we have a unique opportunity to learn it from women.

2) We can learn to align our values to those of God. We live in a culture that has some pretty strong and clear values. Independence. Freedom. Production. Self-determination. Expression. There’s a trend here. All these values are about me and what I can or get to do. As Catholics, these cultural attitudes can seep in and twist our worldview in ways that aren’t immediately obvious. You may now be thinking that these aren’t bad things, they are in fact valuable. You’d be correct. The problem is that these are the central values of our society, but they are emphatically NOT the central values of the Christian life. We need to ask ourselves the hard question, “Where do I place these values in my life? Am I willing to change to align my values with God’s?” 

God teaches us about his values in the creation of women. Mother Teresa writes, “No job, no plans, no possessions, no idea of “freedom” can take the place of love. So anything that destroys God’s gift of motherhood destroys His most precious gift to women – the ability to love as a woman.” 

For a moment, let’s think about God’s gift of motherhood very concretely. Becoming a mother requires the mother to be receptive to the influence of another, in this case, literally receiving the man’s body into hers. This influence results in her whole body rearranging itself around new life. Every system in the woman’s body, skeleton, muscles, nervous system, brain, chemical balance, ALL of it, changes for the baby’s sake. After birth, the woman’s body continues to orient itself around the newborn, most notably in providing sustenance in the form of breastmilk. The physiology of the creation and sustenance of life is truly mind-boggling. 

But there are some things you won’t find much of in motherhood. Independence. Freedom. Production. Self-determination. Expression. Yep. Those central cultural values. No wonder motherhood is under such extreme attack these days, huh? Women are the living, breathing antithesis of modern American values. As men, we can only imagine the difficulty of living in that tension, and it shouldn’t surprise us then that women’s self-esteem in America is at an all-time low. We need to support the women in our lives, especially mothers.

God created women as He did on purpose, to reveal his love to us. God’s value is love. Self-donation. Sacrifice for the good of the other. Motherhood is a beautiful gift and example of this, and we badly need it in our world. Given the attack on womanhood, we as men need to champion women and humbly learn God’s love from the women and mothers in our lives. We must support them as they are. Not ask them to conform to the culture’s ideals or even our own. God made women good, and we must recognize, affirm, and support that.

3) Love your wife. The first thing a family needs, children and parents alike, is a strong marriage. Mother Teresa says, “When families are strong and united, children can see God’s special love in the love of their father and mother and can grow to make their country a loving and prayerful place. The child is God’s best gift to the family and needs both mother and father because each one shows God’s love in a special way. The family that prays together stays together, and if they stay together they will love one another as God has loved each one of them. And works of love are always works of peace.”

We love our wives much better when we recognize and appreciate God’s gift of womanhood. The world tells us there’s nothing special about a woman, that anyone can be one. False. If that’s our belief and our experience, we’re missing out. . We’re all human, but if we miss the differences in the way God designed male and female our love will be limited. 

I do not understand why some people are saying that women and men are exactly the same, and are denying the beautiful differences between men and women. All God’s gifts are good, but they are not all the same. As I often say to people who tell me that they would like to serve the poor as I do, “What I can do, you cannot. What you can do, I cannot. But together we can do something beautiful for God.” It is just this way with the differences between women and men.
God has created each one of us, every human being, for greater things– to love and to be loved. But why did God make some of us men and others women? Because a woman’s love is one image of the love of God, and a man’s love is another image of God’s love. Both are created to love, but each in a different way. Woman and man complete each other, and together show forth God’s love more fully than either can do it alone.

Mother TEresa

Love your wife as a woman, not just a partner. Love grows in proportion to our knowledge, and your relationship will feel the difference. As a simple example, think of knowing that your wife likes flowers. So you get her some. That’s great. Imagine that you’ve taken the time to find out her favorite kind of flower. Getting her a bouquet of those takes the gift to the next level.

Hopefully, you’ve already learned what flower she prefers, but take the time to learn about her as a woman. Ask her what she loves about being a woman, what she hates about it. Show love and care and support in these areas. As your relationship deepens, you can get to the deeper places. Where does your wife feel shame about her femininity? Oof. That’s a heavy one. I wish it weren’t so, but I sincerely doubt that ANY woman in today’s world is free of some shame about being a woman (and the same for men about their masculinity). If she is, it’s the fruit of having faced that shame and being healed, not because there never was any. In those deepest, darkest corners of her heart, can you show up with love? Can you be the vehicle of God’s grace and healing? 

A relationship that honors and loves and respects father and mother, man and woman that deeply is one that will bear so much fruit for the whole family and beyond. What a gift that example would be as the children grow and discover the gift of their own manhood or womanhood, and eventually fatherhood and motherhood.

I encourage you to read the whole letter written by Mother Teresa if you haven’t already. Here’s the link again. Pray through it. Please read it with your wife. See what sticks out to her, and let’s become better supporters and lovers of all the women in our lives.

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