Lenten Classics – Growing from our Setbacks


During each week of Lent this year, we will be posting an excerpt from a classic writing on Christian spirituality, followed by some questions for personal reflection.

Today’s post is taken from the writings of Teresa of Avila (1515-1582). Teresa was a Carmelite nun in Spain whose writings on prayer and spiritual devotion are studied by Christians to this day. The passage below, from her book Interior Castle, encourages believers not to give up when they run into setbacks in their spiritual growth, but rather to allow God to use those setbacks to draw them closer to himself.

Teresa of Avila:

I must remind you that it is the Lord’s will that we should be tested…. When we are afflicted with evil thoughts that we cannot cast out, or when we enter a spiritual desert that we cannot find our way out of, God is teaching us how to be on our guard in the future and to see if we are really grieved at having offended him.

If, then, you sometimes fall, do not lose heart. Even more, do not cease striving to make progress from it, for even out of your fall God will bring some good…. Sometimes God allows us to fall in order to reveal to us our own sinfulness and to show us what harm comes as a result of sin. Our sins can have the effect of leading us back to God and striving all the more.

Let us, therefore, place our trust in God and not in ourselves, relying heavily on his mercy and not fighting the battle alone. When you feel the beginnings of temptation, do not fight back with strenuous efforts, but rather, gently begin a time of prayer and recollection. At first it will be difficult, but after a while you will be able to do it easily, and for long periods of time.

… There is no remedy for the temptations that we face except to start at the beginning, and the beginning is prayer. The only way to lose is to turn back.

Personal reflection:

  • What setbacks have you faced recently in your life as a Christian? Have you fallen into sin? Have you yielded to unbelief? Have you drifted from the Lord?
  • How did you respond to those setbacks?
  • How do you think God might want to use your setbacks to draw you closer to himself?