“Why should I keep praying? I don’t feel God.”
“I don’t hear God when I pray.”
“I get nothing out of my prayer time.”
“God feels distant when I pray.”
“My prayer life has been empty lately.”
Have you ever said some of these statements before? I know I have. My prayer life goes from hot to cold, from yes to no, to in and out, to up and down, to black and white – sorry, too much Katy Perry – but when a friend told me it was awesome how I felt distant from God, I was quite confused.
When these feelings start popping up, it most likely means you are going through a time of spiritual desolation. Our spirituality has a rhythm consisting of spiritual consolation and spiritual desolation. Spiritual consolation is a time of feeling joy, thanksgiving, and stability. Prayer feels fruitful and fulfilling. Spiritual desolation is a time of feeling confusion, anxiety and darkness. Prayer feels dry and demanding.Through faith we KNOW God constantly loves us, but sometimes we don’t emotionally FEEL His love.
Desolation and consolation also have different frequencies. On a large scale, someone could be in a period of desolation for weeks, months, years – Blessed Mother Teresa was known to be in a period of desolation for 50 years! – before finding consolation, again. On a smaller scale, someone could be in a state of consolation and then struggle with fully participating in a Mass; that is a smaller form of desolation.
Toward the end of last year I was working some days from 9am-9pm, going to my dance team’s rehearsals three nights a week (I’m a hip hop dancer… yeah what of it!) and also looking for an apartment.
That’s when desolation hit. Prayer became pretty challenging, reading Scripture felt like doing homework, every single thought distracted me and I felt an overall darkness. This lasted for about 4 months and after recognizing my “dark night” I knew what I had to do for a “bright morning.”
St. Ignatius tells us, when we sincerely seek God, desolation will be a part of our spiritual journey. BUT! He didn’t leave us empty handed on how to combat desolation. In his Spiritual Exercises he goes into great depth on many aspects of spiritually, but I’ve boiled a strategy down to four points — pray, remember, investigate, and sacraments.
Though I wasn’t “feeling” anything during the period of desolation, I dove deeper into prayer. I switched up my prayer routine. For example, I would pray the Lord’s Prayer slowly, line by line reflecting on what each individual letter meant. The devil wants you to stop praying during times of desolation. Don’t let the enemy win; pray fervently in times when you feel isolated.
A box is hidden under my bed which has every single affirmation letter written to me from every retreat I’ve ever attended – seriously, I have letters from my first retreat in middle school. Whenever I feel as if a period of desolation might be stirring up I take this box and read all the letters inside. It reminds me of all times I have thrived in past periods of consolation. A great way to get out of the funk of desolation is to remember times that you were in consolation.
Also, when you’re in times of consolation prepare and equip yourself for times of desolation. For example, if you don’t have affirmation letters – start a journal! In that journal highlight your consolation entries and reflect on them during times of desolation. You could also video record yourself in times consolation and watch those videos during times of desolation.
During my desolate prayer, I would take time to decompress my life and see where God’s will was leading me. He revealed to me that I was too focused on MY will and not trusting HIS will. Look around you and try figure out why you became spiritually desolate. Try and pinpoint the start of your desolation. As humans we tend to, intentionally and unintentionally, replace God with an earthly god. If you can identify when and why your desolation started, the answers could lead to a remedy. Also, the rule of thumb is to stay away from big decisions because people aren’t levelheaded during times of desolation. A great way to ensure some level-headed-ness is to seek counsel from a spiritual director – I bet your priest could help you find one.
I created a recurring event, for every two weeks, on my iPhone calendar titled “The Sacrament of Reconciliation.” Sin is a contributor to desolation, and receiving the healing power of Reconciliation will battle the trend of desolation. Also, I called my best friend and asked if we could make a deal. We would call each other every morning around 7:45am to ensure we were awake and headed to 8:15am daily Mass. We did this every day for a month. I knew that I had to make the Eucharist the center of my spirituality because I needed to stand in the ever flowing river of His love. When you’re desolate and stagnate in your spiritual life, making the sacraments a priority allows God’s mercy to reform your life.
In short, when you feel as if God is far away, don’t stop moving toward Him. Continue with fervent prayer, remember times of consolation in your life, investigate why you feel this way and run towards the Sacraments as fast you can.
Feeling distant from God can be a part of your maturing relationship with Him. If you take notice of your feelings and embrace the purifying aspects of seeking Him in the darkness you will find peace in prayer.