In January, I had the opportunity to be on an 8 day silent retreat with 14 of my missionary brothers and sisters. It was a retreat based on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, a retreat he wrote specifically to be done in silence. Each of us met individually with a spiritual director for an hour each day (the only time when we were allowed any kind of communication) who personally tailored our meditations and holy hours to apply to where we were in our personal walk with Christ.
My own retreat was difficult. I had recently been feeling like God was very distant. I struggled with many doubts that kept coming into my mind any time I tried to pray. I never encouraged these doubts, I knew exactly what I believed, but it frustrated me that I couldn’t get rid of them. Entering into silence was hard. Instead of embracing it and focusing more intently on deepening my relationship with the Lord, I just felt completely isolated. I felt lonely and abandoned. I felt like all the promises that God had ever made were being broken in the course of a week.
When I talked about these struggles with my spiritual director she explained to me what St. Ignatius teaches about what he calls “discernment of spirits” and the difference between “consolation” and “desolation.”
He speaks a lot about spiritual attack and the reality of the devil’s influence if we allow him to speak to us. He talks about how we can be in a time of consolation – when the Lord fills you with joy and love for Him and everything related to Him. In consolation your heart just overflows with peace and praises Him in an almost effortless way. He contrasts this with what he calls desolation, which could be considered the opposite. This is when God allows us to feel turmoil; we might have doubts or fears about the faith or our lives and feel frustrated and alone in these struggles. These trials are not OF the Lord, but are allowed by Him to teach us something. He uses them to show us how we may be in sin or how we may not be following the path He has set out for us. Or He may be using them to teach us humility so that we may not take pride in ourselves and can be led to realize that all good things come from Him and Him alone.
Desolation definitely sounded like what I was going through, and learning this gave me some comfort. Being able to understand what this was helped me to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Desolation isn’t forever, I learned, and though it may stink while it’s going on the Lord allows it for a reason. He allows it to happen and, as far away as He may seem at the time (trust me, I feel you on that one!), you can always have the comfort of knowing that if He’s going to let it happen you can bet your boots that He’ll be walking right alongside you through it all and He will give you the graces you need to overcome it.
I am still in desolation, but I am holding on to the promises that God has made to me – as His daughter – that He will never leave me alone. I am learning a lot through this time. Jesus has slowly been revealing His heart to me in many different ways.
If you find yourself to be going through something like this don’t lose hope! You are never alone. Persevere in the Lord and He will work miracles in your heart.