St. Teresa, I am committed to developing my prayer life and life of virtue but I am feeling isolated, lonely, and I am struggling. What should I do?
A great evil it is for a soul to be alone in the midst of so many dangers. It seems to me that if I should have had someone to talk with (through my spiritual struggles) it would have helped me…
For this reason, I would counsel those who practice prayer to seek, at least at the beginning, friendship and association with other persons that have the same interest. This is something most important even though the association may be only to help one another with prayers. The more of these prayers there are, the greater the gain. Since friends are sought out for conversations and human attachments, even though these latter may not be good, so as to relax and better enjoy telling about vain pleasures, I don’t know why it is not more common that persons beginning truly to love and to serve God talk with some others about their joys and trials, which all who practice prayer undergo. For if the friendship they desire to have with His Majesty is authentic, there is no reason to fear vainglory. And when these persons overcome vainglory in its first stirrings, they come away with merit. I believe that they who discuss these joys and trials for the sake of friendship with God will benefit themselves and those who hear them, and they will come away instructed; even without understanding how they will have instructed their friends.
Since this spiritual friendship is so extremely important for souls not yet fortified in virtue – since they have so many opponents and friends to incite them to evil – I don’t know how to urge it enough. It seems to me the devil has used the following artifice as something very important to him: those who truly want to love and to please God are as hidden as other unrighteous persons are incited to make their evil known so evil becomes so customary it seems socially justified; and, the offenses committed against God in this matter are published.
…There is so much sluggishness in matters having to do with the service of God that it is necessary for those who serve Him to become shields for one another that they might advance. For it is considered good to walk in the vanities and pleasures of the world, and those who don’t are unnoticed. If any begin to give themselves to God, there are so many to criticize them that they need to seek companionship to defend themselves until they are so strong that it is no longer a burden for them to suffer this criticism. And if they don’t seek this companionship, they will find themselves in much difficulty.
…And it is a kind of humility not to trust oneself but to believe that through those with whom one converses with God will help and increase charity while it is being shared. And there are a thousand graces I would not dare speak of if I did not have powerful experience of the benefit that comes from this sharing.
It is true that I am the weakest and most wicked of all human beings. But I believe they will not be lost who, humbling themselves, even though they be strong, do not believe by themselves but believe this one who has experience. Of myself, I know and say that if the Lord had not revealed this to me and given me the means by which I could ordinarily talk with persons who practiced prayer, I, falling and rising would have ended by throwing myself straight into hell. For in falling I had many friends to help me; but in rising I found myself so alone that I am now amazed I did not remain ever fallen. And I praise the mercy of God for it was He alone who gave me His hand. May he be blessed forever and ever. Amen
St. Teresa of Avila
(Adapted from Life, Ch 7, pg 92-94, The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Volume One, ICS Publications, Washington D.C. 1987)