Teresa of Avila’s writing is enriching to my soul. She has gone down in history as one of the most influential of Christian mystics, but she exhibited great humility in her work, saying, “If you find anything good in this book which helps you to learn to know Him better, you can be quite sure that it is His Majesty Who has said it, and if you find anything bad, that it has been said by me.”
In a world of arrogance, such humility in a writing is refreshing.
I tend to be a people-pleaser, desiring to make everyone happy. This is a problem when it is impossible to make everyone happy, as I have had to learn over and over. My desire for all to like me is one of my deepest struggles. Sometimes I fail at being a leader, hesitating to make the tough decision, for fear people will be upset. I believe I have improved over the years, but I still have a long way to grow.
Teresa’s words are a good reminder that pleasing everyone, being well-spoken of, is not of ultimate importance: “to be well spoken of is only one trial more and a worse one than those already mentioned. For the soul sees quite clearly that if there is any good in it this is a gift of God, and not in the least due to itself, for only a short time previously it saw itself in dire poverty and plunged deep into sin”.
In Teresa’s day some sisters had amazing spiritual experiences that may have caused them to become quite arrogant. Others may have looked at them with awe. Teresa reminds us that spiritual experiences do not automatically make you better or more holy. Such experiences are merely gifts from God that prepare us for continued service:
“let none of you imagine that, because a sister has had such experiences, she is any better than the rest; the Lord leads each of us as He sees we have need. Such experiences, if we use them aright, prepare us to be better servants of God; but sometimes it is the weakest whom God leads by this road; and so there is no ground here either for approval or for condemnation. We must base our judgments on the virtues. The saintliest will be she who serves Our Lord with the greatest mortification and humility and purity of conscience”
This makes me think of how easy it is to be critical of others. It is easy to find the one part of a book that I disagree with and tear it to shreds. It makes me feel good to find a few things unorthodox or just wrong with a ministry that appears more successful then mine. Is is comforting to mock famous leaders, pastors and authors for how they represent Christianity to the public.
It is more comfortable to ignore my own struggles. Most of the time it is easy to present yourself to the world in the way you want people to perceive you. After a while you start to believe your own hype.
Humility slips away as arrogance grows.
I admire how great I am and criticize others.
I manage to please everybody and they all like me.
Then it all falls apart and I am driven back into a confrontation with my own brokenness. Teresa would say this is a good thing. We need to be in touch with our true broken nature before we can accept God’s love:
“It is absurd to think that we can enter Heaven without first entering our own souls — without getting to know ourselves, and reflecting upon the wretchedness of our nature and what we owe to God, and continually imploring His mercy.”
Books like Teresa’s drive me to the grace of God. And that is a good thing.