Teresa of Avila: The Interior Castle: Seventh Mansions: Chapter Four
It benefits me little to be alone making acts of devotion to our Lord, proposing and promising to do wonders in his service, if I then go away and when the occasion offers itself do everything the opposite. I was wrong in saying it profits little, for everything having to do with God profits a great deal. (Teresa of Avila)
She knows there’s no success like failure
And that failure’s no success at all (Bob Dylan)
We commit to do something “big” for God — “proposing and promising to do wonders in his service”, but “when the occasion offers itself do everything the opposite”. Teresa begins by saying “It benefits me little” to make these resolutions if I don’t follow through. But then corrects herself saying, “I was wrong in saying it profits little, for everything having to do with God profits a great deal.”
Teresa approaches resolutions from two points of reference. (1) We make resolutions to God. (2) We make resolutions with God. The resolutions “with God” develop through a variety of ways (e.g. prayer, reflection, reading, conversations, and mystical prayer). “With God” implies some sort of revelation and includes friendship and partnership with God. Since these resolutions develop in partnership with God, they’re significant. But, sometimes we fail to carry out our resolutions – or as Teresa says, we “do everything the opposite” of what we intended.
Failure and Success
What you do for God “profits a great deal”. This is true even if we fail or partially fail. Yet, the ultimate completion of our resolutions is still critical. With the passing of time, our “failed” resolutions are likely to evolve and take new shape. Instead of downgrading the challenge because we “failed”, God gives us something better, more complex, and more rewarding.
Then to support our ultimate success, God may also intervene with “trials”. The trials are not a punishment from God. They’re designed to remove fear and build resilience, clearing the path toward our objectives. I was reading a book from the insightful Dani Shapiro yesterday. She led with this quotation from Baal Shem Tov: “Let me fall if I must fall. The one I will become, will catch me.”
Embrace your failures and trials. They will shape you into the person who can achieve your resolutions.
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.