Listening Prayerfully – Learning from Those Who’ve Gone Before…

Today’s post is the fourth in a series about a journey of listening prayerfully (See April 9, 16 & 19 archives). These posts include contents of a devotional talk I made to my travel group during our amazing educational pilgrimage as well as additional insights learned during the time I was in Spain.

Continuing from last time…

     As I’ve journeyed into the adventure of prayer, learning to listen for and discern the voice of God, I’ve discovered there will be times when I come to a juncture in my journey, and I must decide which road I’ll take. I call these roads,

     The road of “Yes, BUT…” or

     The road of “Yes, WHAT…”

     I believe my favorite time in Spain was the day we spent in Ávila where we focused our attention on the 16th Century saint, Teresa of Ávila, also known as Teresa de Jesus. Teresa chose the road or “Yes, WHAT…” often and has much to teach this 21st Century gal. Today, I want to honor her memory by sharing a few facts I learned about her during my pilgrimage.

     Before I begin my praises of a woman I believe is praiseworthy, I’d like to say I’m not deifying Teresa. Like every man or woman who’s lived on this earth—except Jesus, Emmanuel (God with us)—she was flawed.

     As a pastoral counselor, I am privileged to help guide people to answers the Holy Spirit has already implanted within them. In a process of discovery, it’s not unusual for the one being helped to give too much credit to the helper. I’m always quick to say I’m a very flawed woman loved by a VERY good and gracious God.

     All credit for success in my spiritual journey belongs to God. I have a feeling Teresa would agree with me. While she’d be pleased to know her influence made a difference, I also believe she would credit God for every gift she possessed, every opportunity she was given and every insight she gained.

     I also imagine, like each of us who comes to a juncture and must choose which road to take, a tug-of- war occurred as Teresa wrestled with her free will. God wants—and will reward—obedience, but God never forced her and will not force you or me to take the most God-honoring path.

     Teresa was born in 1515. Her parents were devout and loving. She was close to her mother, who died when she was 14 years old. I’ve heard psychologists say early teens are the most difficult age for a daughter to lose her mother or a son his father. Traumatic incidents often become means we allow to define us. To do otherwise, demands a choice. I can take the road of “Yes, BUT…,” avoiding, stuffing, masking or using pain as an excuse. Or, I can choose the road of “Yes, WHAT…,” seeking help to understand the impact and implication of the pain, allowing it to make me stronger, more resilient and empowered to help others.

     When Teresa was a child, girls were not taught to read nor write. Teresa’s parents chose a different path, going against cultural norms. Teresa was well educated and well read. Years later, when Teresa founded a convent, she too was willing to buck the system, choosing a different “road,” insisting all nuns would be taught to read and write.

     As an adult, when Teresa wrote to the Bishop, she made deliberate grammatical and spelling errors because she knew if she wrote too skillfully, the Bishop wouldn’t find her communications believable because of bias related to a woman’s intellectual ability. While some may call her behavior lying, I see it as strategic cunning, a willingness to choose the road of humility rather than pride to advocate most effectively for those she was called to serve.

     Teresa suffered extreme physical pain and illness. It’s easy to choose the road of self-pity and complaining during such times. Physical and emotional energy required to manage pain is exhausting. Instead of complaining, though, during her dark, bedridden season, Teresa allowed suffering to drive her more deeply into God’s Spirit. Later in life, even though she lived with chronic pain, Teresa kept moving, traveling many miles by foot to minister.

          When Teresa entered the convent, there was a type of caste system in place for nuns. Those with financial means were afforded the opportunity to be supported by their families. They enjoyed nice apartments and choice food. Poor nuns, however, were required to beg for food. Even though Teresa was from an affluent family, she refused to choose the road of entitlement and forbade this practice in the convent she founded. Every sister was treated in the same way. Each lived simply within their religious community.

     There’s more I’d like to share with you about Teresa of Ávila, but this post is already too long! We’ll discuss more soon. I hope you’re learning to appreciate this remarkable woman!

This was my favorite statue of Teresa depicting her writing a book of prayers, which was eventually used by religious orders throughout Spain. This photograph encourages me to get to work on a devotional book I believe God wants me to write. If you’re so inclined, I’d appreciate your prayers in this endeavor. I’m stuck at the juncture and can think of lots of reasons to choose the road of “YES, BUT…!”

What about you?

  • Can you think of a time when you came to a juncture in your journey of faith and bucked the system rather than accepting status quo?
  • What did you learn because of the choice you made?
  • What part of Teresa’s story speaks most deeply to your soul? Why? What action step is God asking you to take as a result?

Until next time…

Sue Reeve

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