The Second Mansion: Torn between Two Loyalties

March 20, 2014

Our exploration of the seven stages of spiritual growth, according to Teresa of Avila and unpacked by Thomas Ashbrook in Mansions of the Heart, continues. Especially during Lent, it is appropriate to take stock of how we are doing spiritually, to see if we are any closer to the love of God. It’s always been a rather vexing enterprise to find ways to measure spiritual development, because assessments are so often performance-based. But Teresa ushers us through the seven “mansions” of her “interior castle” to illustrate the movement from the active (performance-based) to the infused (relationship-based) phases of life with Christ. Development at the later stages may not be visible to observers, but the sojourner is aware and the fruit is greater love toward others. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The second mansion, which I have called “torn between two loyalties,” is the phase in which a true struggle ensues. If the first mansion is the castle’s foyer, the second mansion is the living room with a good view of the front yard. Spiritual life in this place of welcome is becoming more active, but the view of the world outside remains enticing and memories of the “pots of meat in Egypt” tempt the pilgrim to forsake the path toward full communion with God. As Ashbrook observes, “We feel like a schizophrenic in the second mansion.” On the one hand, we are discovering the joys of life in Jesus and growing in knowledge and grace; on the other hand, we still enjoy the pleasures of a worldly life. We still get affirmation consistent with earthly values and are only beginning to get a sense of God’s true, unconditional love for us according to Kingdom values. The voice of Jesus is becoming a bit more familiar, and quite often he is alerting us to the choices that are before us.

Meanwhile, Satan is pushing back more, too. This is a genuine spiritual battle, fraught with temptation, second-guessing, and dabbles in the old life to see what will happen. A real clash of values has us feeling hypocritical one moment and abjectly dependent on God the next. This tug-of-war for our souls happens at this early stage, because, perhaps for the first time, the Holy Spirit has enlivened our hearts to God’s Word and way, and he challenges the way we have always done things. And then we have a choice that can be agonizing, especially when it entails forsaking a worldly friend who is Big Trouble or withstanding the ridicule of unbelievers.

Prayer at this stage is responsive to hearing Jesus’ voice, though it is still primarily talkative and directive (“Here’s what I need and how you can meet it”). I get an owie thinking about this, because I am very good at telling God precisely what the problem is and what exactly he can do to solve it! I mean, didn’t Jesus say, “Ask, and you shall receive”? On a more positive note, prayers at this stage also begin to focus outward, in intercession for others.

I remember going through this mansion my senior year in high school, after committing my life to Christ the previous summer. My spiritual issues did not revolve around drug use, belligerence, trouble-making, or other observable maladies. I was a straight-A student, active in my church, cleanliving, your typical first-born overachiever. What was worldly in my soul was a huge dose of pride and conceit, a need to be center-stage and applauded, and a driven personality to be the best at everything to boost my own reputation. When Jesus got a grip on my life, I was wrested from center-stage and introduced to an entirely different reason for living: to glorify and to serve my heavenly Father. The change in my attitude, from the inside out, was observed and commented upon by my acquaintances (“What’s happened to you? You’re not conceited anymore.”)

Nevertheless, senior year is senior year. One is taking SATs, accumulating “points” for graduation, in my case starring in Hello, Dolly! (talk about “center-stage”), and otherwise fighting back senioritis. In retrospect, I realized that this year was both glorious and stalled, spiritually speaking. God protected me through it and set in motion a series of circumstantial developments that would change my life forever. I drifted between the Castle and the World, sometimes feeling the tug-of-war between them, sometimes falling for the old lures.

But for the first time, really, there was a battle within, and this is progress! Before, there had been no answer to Satan’s enticements; now Jesus was right there urging a better way and giving me a taste of it. It meant choosing some new friends. It meant becoming more and more familiar with biblical language and the realities it unveiled. It meant a major shift in focus from myself at the center to Almighty God at the heart of my life. The process of conversion was underway, but there were still more rooms in the castle to investigate.

Tomorrow: The Third Mansion, Following Jesus


2 Responses to “The Second Mansion: Torn between Two Loyalties”

  1. Didn’t know you were an “eldest,” but it figures!

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