The Lord is also in the habit of sending the most grievous infirmities. This is a much greater trial, especially if the pains are severe; in some ways, when they are very acute, I think they are the greatest earthly trial that exists–the greatest exterior trial, I mean”. (Teresa of Avila: Sixth Mansions: Chapter One)
Preparation for intimacy with God comes, in part, through suffering. According to Teresa, we experience many interior and exterior trials. The first exterior trial comes from comes from The Critics. The critics are those who inflict damage through criticism, gossip, contempt, and lying. The second trial comes through praise. Praise, like criticism, distorts our self-knowledge and stifles our spiritual growth. A third exterior trial comes through physical suffering.
Teresa experienced physical suffering a good share of her life. She provides general principles about suffering:
- Acute physical suffering is the most difficult exterior trial we will experience.
- Severe physical suffering is oppressive. Teresa says, she “would much rather suffer any martyrdom than these pains”.
- Physical suffering can be compounded by other trials making it even more oppressive.
- Sometimes the Lord sends us physical suffering as a trial. Teresa says, this is His “habit”. (Suffering can also come from the devil, as a consequence to sin, or as collateral damage from the sin of others.)
- Sin is not always the cause of physical suffering. But physical suffering can be a consequence of our own sin.
- To suffer is to imitate Jesus; therefore, God will bless and reward our suffering. We will experience personal benefits from our suffering. Our suffering will also contribute to the well-being of others. (I Peter 2.21 and Colossians 1.24)
- Jesus desires us to engage Him in our suffering. He will give us strength and deepen our intimacy with Him.
As difficult as physical sufferings can be, they are, according to Teresa, slight in comparison to the interior trials we may face: “But oh, when we come to interior sufferings! If these could be described they would make all physical sufferings seem very slight, but it is impossible to describe interior sufferings and how they happen.”
Interior trials will be our next topic.