What Mother Teresa Really Said and Why It’s More Relevant Than Ever


As the story goes, Mother Teresa once remarked to a business man who was grieved by what he saw in slums of Calcutta, “If you want to bring happiness to the whole world, go home and love your family.” He wanted to do more out in the world. and she told him to start at home. Mother Teresa’s wise and encouraging words have always resonated deeply with me and with many, but is there more to what she was telling us?

Christ in Everyone 

Like me, you may be surprised to know these words are a punchier, prettied-up version of what Mother Teresa said. The more robust context taken from her Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech in 1979 follows: 

“And so, my prayer for you is that truth will bring prayer in our homes, and the fruit of prayer will be that we believe that in the poor, it is Christ. And if we really believe, we will begin to love. And if we love, naturally, we will try to do something. First in our own home, our next door neighbor, in the country we live, in the whole world.”

When we look at this quote in long form, we can see more of the heart behind her words and her mission to see Jesus in everyone. While her enduring focus was on the poor and poverty-stricken souls, she understood the transformational power of prayer to take us closer to the heart of Christ, to be no longer able to see me or them, but all Christ. And to be passionately moved to action from within by the Spirit, by love. 

A Love that Overcomes All 

Mother Teresa’s message to start at home and take care of things at home, is something moms understand. It’s instinctual. When our babies cry, the pull of the outside world fades as we respond to our child’s need. While Mother Teresa wasn’t solely speaking to moms as much as she was to humanity, the nuance moms get is that there is a natural order to our response. Even when we are tired or sick or hungry, we still respond. Because we are fueled by the abundant love we have for our family. 

Even when we spend time making a dinner no one eats or when we do the laundry that seems to refill immediately, or when making the schedules work becomes a complex algebra problem, we still find a way. When we tackle the tasks in tandem with our partners, as a team, we both are coming from a place of love. But can we really fathom how powerful loving our family can be? 

I did a little more searching and found there was also a Nobel Lecture given by Mother Teresa. In addition to their acceptance speeches the Nobel Laureates give their official Nobel Prize lectures, describing the history and background of their work. It is within her lecture that Mother Teresa gave another impassioned plea, 

“You too try to bring that presence of God in your family, for the family that prays together stays together. And I think that we in our family don’t need bombs and guns, to destroy, to bring peace – just get together, love one another, bring that peace, that joy, that strength of presence of each other in the home. And we will be able to overcome all the evil that is in the world.”  (Nobel Peace Prize Lecture, 1979). 

Let’s read that last line again, “And we will be able to overcome all the evil that is in the world.” 

Such powerful words. A mighty call to action. One that begins with one person inviting in the presence of God. One that involves the whole family working together. 

Love (v.) as an Action 

In the same lecture, the future saint goes onto say, 

“There is so much suffering, so much hatred, so much misery, and we with our prayer, with our sacrifice are beginning at home. Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the action that we do. It is to God Almighty – how much we do it does not matter, because He is infinite, but how much love we put in that action. How much we do to Him in the person that we are serving.”

Perhaps what Mother Teresa understood better than anyone is that in order to make any lasting, impactful and real change, we have to start at the root of it all—if we hope to disrupt the cycle of poverty in any meaningful and measurable way, we need to start at the beginning—we need to start at home. We aren’t alone in this divine opportunity, to combat the evil out in the world. For we know God’s love, through the sacrifice of His Son, conquered all (John 3:16). Yet we’re not called only to love, but to love abundantly, unabashedly, to put love into everything we do not from our own reserves but from Christ’s unending supply (1 Corinthians 6:14). 

When we look into the faces of our loved ones and see past the sticky and syrupy remnants of breakfast on their cheeks, the eye rolls and the apathy of our older kids (and sometimes even the three-year-olds), we can see the divine behind their eyes. When we simple pause and take stock of the answered prayers woven in our daily lives, we can’t help but notice Jesus in every moment. We can also trust that we’re not expected to somehow manufacture or even harness all of this overcoming-evil-love because we get to partner with Jesus. This isn’t a feel-good sentiment, but the very real promise we are made through Christ. We can trust in Emmanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23), which means we tap into His never-ending supply when we feel drained. And we get to put all of our love, His love, together into action and ultimately serve Him through all the ways we show LOVE (verb) in action. 

Love in Real Life 

This all sounds good and simple enough, but how does this work in our real, actual lives? Even with this inspirational call to action for our homes to be places of joy, peace, love—beyond meeting the basic needs of our family, does it imply that we should only focus on our home and our people? Or infer that moms can’t have careers or goals of her own? 

I would gather that Mother Teresa understood the nuance of these questions. For as much as she tried to funnel it all down to love, I would reiterate her words, “…and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the action that we do.” I feel her words are an echo of Jesus’ (forgive my paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 13:1)…”we can do all the things, but if we do them without love they are nothing.” We can surmise the question is less about the rules of how to love and more about just infusing as much love as we can into everything we do. It all comes down to how we’re showing up—solely in a physical sense or are we there fully present and engaged? There are days I am physically present in my home, but then days I am home, embodying the word itself. And the difference is my mindful, whole presence. 

Each one of us is given the freedom and permission to explore what it looks like to be a conduit for Christ’s multi-faceted, beautiful love. You know best what this looks like in your home to your people, the gifts you bring to the table in your home— the ways God made you to love others and show that love through your unique talents, the things only you possess. (And before you object here girl, you absolutely have a gifting—it may be so natural to you, that you may not even realize just what it is—ask your kids, your spouse, your friends and I am sure they’ll happily oblige). 

Maybe you love your people through nourishing, homemade meals. Maybe you have the special things on hand that bring your people joy and comfort. Maybe you are really good at playing and being spontaneous. Maybe keeping a schedule and being one step ahead of what they need serves your family well. Maybe the job you have outside of your home pays for all the necessities inside your home. Most likely you’re a combination of these things depending on any given day and time. 

Saying No is Love 

Loving our family well also looks like saying no to them and establishing boundaries and consequences. We know this is an important part of Christlike love because sometimes God tells us no—we don’t get everything we pray for, we may feel the sting of our choices, we run into closed doors. Sometimes to love us best God doesn’t do what we want, but he helps us figure it out. This is a huge part of loving our family. By helping our kids learn how to help themselves, we guide our children in becoming thoughtful contributors to our family—cleaning up after themselves, taking good care of things, being respectful and working as a team before they leave the nest, so they can be thoughtful contributors to society. We help them learn how to take care of themselves so they can be strong mentally, physically and spiritually. Because sacrifice isn’t the same as being spent. Sacrificial love is always an exponential kind of love. 

Behind and Beyond our Front Doors 

When we apply Mother Teresa’s life-giving words in the context of our homes, we understand the woman who devoted her life to the poor, marginalized and overlooked, is not asking us to ignore the world outside of our front doors. Nor is her intention ever to say we as women should stay confined to home (let’s remember she said these words to a man). Mother Teresa reminds us of the power we have within—ourselves and our homes—when we allow Christ to live in our hearts, when we see Him in everything and everyone. We can absolutely serve and reach out to those the good Lord puts in our path and beyond, I don’t know one mom who could ignore the plight of a child, we want the best for all children, but first we must see and serve the ones he placed right before us on the daily. Sometimes it may even be more difficult of a call—no one often sees the good we do at home, there aren’t many awards or accolades and our own children can test our patience and resolve better than anyone (Amen?). Perhaps this is why it’s the hardest and holiest work, done in the quiet, unseen places. We must believe it matters. 

Go home and love your family. Yes, this is how we change the world.

Articles Referenced: 

Mother Teresa’s Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

Mother Teresa’s Nobel Lecture

Ideas to Try:

5 Little Ways to Love Your Family 


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