Trying Too Hard

Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle: Seventh Mansions: Book Three

The house was built with stone finished at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor ax nor any tool of iron was heard in the temple while it was being built. (I Kings 6.7)

Our soul is the Interior Castle. Teresa explains it is like a single diamond in which there are many rooms.  At the center of this Castle is where the King (Jesus) resides. Our soul has great dignity and beauty and is a paradise in which God takes great delight. Teresa asks, “What do you think a room will be like that is the delight of a King so mighty, so wise, so pure and so full of all that is good?”  We enter the Interior Castle through prayer and meditation. Teresa says, “You will have read certain books on prayer which advise the soul to enter within itself: and that is exactly what this means.” 

Our destination is the center of the Interior Castle (Seventh Mansions) where the most “secret things pass between God and the soul”.  We begin the journey to the center of the castle by responding to God’s grace with our effort (ascetic prayer). But in the latter stages of the journey, the work is initiated by God (mystical prayer). In mystical prayer we “surrender” to his work. This “surrender” in our relationship with God also becomes mutual as he surrenders himself to us as well: “It is by humility that the Lord allows himself to be conquered so that He will do all we ask of Him”.

“Surrender” to God comes with peace and contentment. Teresa says, “There are almost never any experiences of dryness or interior disturbance of the kind that were present at times in all the other dwelling places, but the soul is almost always in quiet.” This peace cannot be counterfeited by the devil: “There is no fear that this sublime favor can be counterfeited by the devil, but the soul is wholly sure that the favor comes from God”. And we’re protected from the devil’s deception in the Seventh Mansions: “His Majesty reveals himself to the soul and brings it to himself in that place where, in my opinion, the devil will not dare enter, nor will the Lord allow him to enter.”

This peace with God and protection from the devil incentivizes us not waste time in our spiritual journey. The sooner we move to the center of the Castle, the more peace and protection we have because “the devil does not dare enter” this part of the Castle. Teresa says, We must avoid “this habit of always serving God at a snail’s pace!” or wasting our time refining “our carefully ordered life”.

Near the center of the Castle, spiritual development has a “surrendering” quality to it verses active accomplishment. An analogy of surrender is found in yoga. We surrender to the yoga pose rather than pressing for a result. The more we strain, the less we accomplish. Straining too much can become counter-productive with risk of injury. Teresa says, “Nor does the Lord in all the favors he grants the soul here, as I have said, receive any assistance from the soul itself, except what it has already done in surrendering itself totally to God.”

And surrender produces astounding results and quietness of soul. Teresa uses a metaphor from the building of Solomon’s Temple*:  “Every way in which the Lord helps the soul here, and all he teaches it, takes place with such quiet and so noiselessly that, seemingly to me, the work resembles the building of Solomon’s temple where no sound was heard. So in this temple of God, in this, his dwelling place, he alone and the soul rejoice together in the deepest silence. There is no reason for the intellect to stir or seek anything, for the Lord who created it wishes to give it repose here and that through a small crevice it might observe what is taking place. . . . In my opinion, the faculties are not lost here; they do not work, but remain as though in amazement.” 

Quietness of soul is not inertia. It’s releasing the idea that we only accomplish things through our own planning and activity. We recognize surrender and non-action can take us beyond our own limits. We become part of something bigger than ourselves – God’s creative work. And our faculties will look with amazement.

I encourage you to quit trying so hard spiritually and begin surrendering and responding to the work already being done by God.


For this post I used a translation of The Interior Castle by Kieran Kavanaugh O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies: Washington D.C. Kindle Edition.

*Rodriguez and Kavanaugh note I Kings 6.7

Jesus Follower, Blogger, Public Speaker.

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Posted in 7th Mansions - Chapter 3

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