January 23, 2021

Watering the Garden

Teresa of Avila, a sixteenth-century Christian, taught extensively about the inner life of prayer and communion with God. She compared it to watering a garden. Without prayer our capacity to love will wither and die. But not all prayer nourishes our souls the same way, just as not all forms of watering a garden are equally effective. Teresa said the “first water” of prayer is akin to hauling buckets from a well. We expend a great deal of energy, but it results in very little impact. This sort of praying puts the emphasis on our work, our words, our striving. Rather than finishing refreshed, we feel exhausted and wonder if prayer is worth the effort. Those who remain in this stage often give up on prayer entirely.

The “second water” of prayer is like attaching a rope and pulley to the bucket. The focus of prayer is still on our labor, but the work becomes a bit easier as we begin to relinquish control. Rather than filling every moment with our words and thoughts, we begin to slow down and experience moments of refreshing silence. Teresa’s “third water” takes this a step further. Rather than manually watering our garden one bucket at a time, this form of prayer is like a stream irrigating the field. We become less hurried and find rest as the flow of the water does the work. Periods of silence become more common in our prayers as we entrust ourselves to God and seek only his presence rather than striving for a specific outcome.

Finally, Teresa compared the “fourth water” to rain. It is a total surrender to and union with God in which we are passive recipients of his grace. It is this kind of prayer that most effectively waters our gardens and saturates our lives with an awareness of his love. Henri Nouwen saw this kind of prayer as the beginning of ministry—the way our reservoir becomes filled with love so that we might be equipped to love others.

From Skye Jethani —
With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God


  1. A huge transition for me was realizing that prayer doesn’t consist of me coming up with a lot of spiritual things to say, and trying to make it all sound really good. heck, half the time I “reach out” to God now, I don’t say any words at all.

  2. YaY!! Teresa of Avila!! My favorite. 🙂

  3. Love this! Thanks for sharing it!

  4. Likewise, Teresa has long been one of my teachers.

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