I have known a few souls who . . . for many years lived an upright and carefully ordered life, both in soul and in body and then, after all these years, when it has seemed as if they must have gained the mastery over the world, or at least must be completely detached from it, His Majesty has sent them tests which have been by no means exacting and they have become so restless and depressed in spirit that they have exasperated me, and have even made me thoroughly afraid for them. It is of no use offering them advice, for they have been practicing virtue for so long that they think they are capable of teaching others and have ample justification for feeling as they do.
Well, I cannot find, and never have found, any way of comforting such people, except to express great sorrow at their trouble, which, when I see them so miserable I really do feel. It is useless to argue with them, for they brood over their woes and make up their minds that they are suffering for God’s sake, and thus never really understand that it is all due to their own imperfection. (The Interior Castle: Third Mansions: Chapter Two)
When Christians possess what Teresa calls an “upright and carefully ordered life” they tend to resist spiritual trials because they require interior change and disrupt established patterns of living. They become distraught when even a minor trial pierces their armor of self-protection. And then they are stuck because their “mastery over the world” has also immunized themselves against guidance.
According to Teresa, God occasionally withdraws His help so we recognize our limitations. If we allow a spiritual trial to be instructional it leads us to humility and insight. And this brings us to the critical point: The content of the spiritual trial is not what really troubles us. What troubles us is the trial exposes some harmful imperfection or unhealthy attachment we refuse to address. Sometimes those with carefully ordered lives will sidestep the instruction and grind through the intense pain of the trial just so they can cling to their attachments.
Spiritual trials confront us with the important question of the Third Mansions: Will I follow Jesus to freedom or will I simply fine-tune my “upright and carefully-ordered life”?