Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada was born in the walled city of Avila, Spain, on March 28, 1515. The third of eight children, she was a lively, charming child, her father’s darling. After the death of her mother in 1528, Teresa prayed before the statue of the Blessed Mother in the cathedral asking Mary to be her mother. By the time Teresa was a teenager, her frivolous behavior and questionable company so worried her father that he arranged for her to live as a boarder with the nuns at the Augustinian convent. Initially, Teresa had no intention of entering the religious life, but under the influence of an especially devout nun she began to consider becoming a nun. The decision did not come easily, but during a serious illness, fear for her immortal soul seized the day. She decided to enter the Carmelite convent of the Incarnation, outside the walls. Knowing that her father would be devastated by the decision, she entered without his permission and made her profession on November 3, 1537. Nearly twenty years of inner struggle were to follow.
Teresa was in turmoil for several reasons. First, she was aware that her commitment to the religious life was thin: fear, rather than love for God, had motivated her to become a nun. Second, her health deteriorated and she suffered a life-threatening illness that left her paralyzed for almost three years. Third, she was emotionally fragile: the death of her father in 1543 and an attraction to a priest she met while recuperating were profoundly unsettling. Fourth, she suffered under the weight of hypocrisy: having learned from a devout uncle the practice of mental prayer known as recollection, she in turn taught the nuns in the convent how to think about the words they said rather than merely recite them in rote fashion. While the nuns praised her sanctity for leading them inward in prayer, Teresa knew she was a sham: unbeknownst to them she would abandon prayer for long periods of time and turn lukewarm in her devotions.
Teresa likened her suffering to being swept about by an ocean storm; on the one hand she desired God, on the other, the things of the world. The divided