Praising in Consolation and Praying in Desolation

Whenever I’m home on break my mom and I have a certain tradition we like to do together: watch game shows. In the morning, we love to root for the contestants on The Price is Right by trying to guess all the correct prices ourselves. At night we like to watch Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune and play along by racing to guess faster than the contestants do.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking, is a 90-year-old woman writing this blog? No, but I have to say, what always amazes me about these game shows is just how quickly the contestants have to make decisions that have huge consequences. If they get it right, they win a whole car! If they don’t, they go home with nothing at all. Life doesn’t present us every day with decisions like that, but the decisions that we do make every day carry a lot of weight. Before we make them, it’s important to put a little more than two seconds of thought into it.

And it is especially important if we are examining whether or not we are in a state of consolation or desolation.

That’s why we thank God for the spirituality of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, who gave us his “Rules for Discernment.” This is to examine the interior movements of our hearts more closely and consider whether we are making steps toward or away from God. Ignatius guides us in how to discern what to do when we are experiencing “consolation” and “desolation,” and gives us practical tips for making the necessary steps to go deeper in our relationship with Jesus.

Consolation and desolation are natural aspects of the spiritual life, but what exactly are we talking about when we use these terms “consolation” and “desolation”?

Let’s ask the great St. Ignatius of Loyola to define them, shall we?

What is Spiritual Consolation?

St. Ignatius said consolation is when, “Some interior movement in the soul causes the soul to come inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord,” it is when the soul strives to love no created thing more than the Creator of all. Saint Ignatius also calls consolation, “Every increase of hope, faith, and charity, and all interior joy that calls and attracts the soul to heavenly things and to salvation.”

When you’re experiencing consolation, God’s voice is one of ease and clarity. You feel intimately close to Him and experience hardly any resistance going to prayer. You desire to love God above all else and have an intense desire to share His love with others. When someone is experiencing spiritual consolation, they can also be described as “living into the fruits of the Holy Spirit:” joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Being aware of the movements of the Holy Spirit in your life will help you to go deeper into relationship with God. In this season of life practice humility and gratitude. Consolation is a gift that you open yourself to.

It’s important to remember that if someone is experiencing consolation, it’s not because of something good that they have done, but rather, because of God’s gift. However, we always do want to keep doing those things that enable us to be in right relationship with Him. Before you go to prayer, however, ask yourself, “What is my motivation for coming to prayer?” Remember: spiritual disciplines do not make us “worthy” of receiving God’s love, we should love God for His own sake, and for the fact that He loves us for our own sake, too. We don’t have to earn His love for Him to want to hold us close.

Also, if you’ve experienced an intense moment of consolation with the Lord in the past, don’t compare your future consolation to that one. Just because you’re not at the “peak” level of consolation doesn’t mean it’s the opposite. Don’t make the best the enemy of the good.

Lean into consolation and don’t take it for granted. When you’re a kid, you’re not meant to have training wheels on forever. Consolation is helpful but it’s not necessary for you to live your faith. It’s time to live it in every season!

What should I do in a season of Consolation?

1. Praise God. Giving God praise and thanks is a great way to express your trust in Him. Ex: “I praise you, Father, for you are all good and forgiving.”

2. Keep doing what you’re doing. Live fervently into your daily prayer routine.

3. Lectio-Divina with the Psalms or Gospels, and in the mindset that God wants to speak to you. You can be confident that when you read Sacred Scripture, God is speaking.

4. Make a daily Examination of Conscience before you go to bed.

5. Pray by journaling. Pay attention to the voice of God and His presence during the day. Be honest with the Lord about where your heart is and bring everything to the light.

6. Make a plan for the future about how what your prayer life will look like when you’re in a season of desolation. This will help you to remain in the Lord’s love.

7. Ask Our Lady about how you can be more receptive to her Son Jesus.

What is Spiritual Desolation?

St. Ignatius describes desolation as, “darkness of soul, disturbance in it, movement to low and earthly things, disquiet from various agitations and temptations, moving to a lack of confidence, without hope, without love, finding oneself totally slothful, tepid, sad as if separated from one’s Creator and Lord.”

While desolation is fundamentally a movement away from feeling the reality of the presence of God, when someone experiences this darkness, it is still possible for them to live in the Spirit. In fact, they ought to. God wants to do something in the darkness that He can’t do in the light. He wants to show you something new about His love. He wants to transform you. Desolation is still God’s gift, and it’s still for our good. So while we may desire to pray earnestly for consolation to return, recognize that God wants to draw you deeper into relationship with Him even when prayer is hard. It’s worth it to trust Him in everything.

When you are experiencing a season of desolation, it is important to remember this:
1. God always permits desolation for our good.
2. Desolation is not a reflection of your performance prayer.

However, desolation is also defined as “separateness from God.” When you are in mortal sin, you should not be surprised if you are experiencing desolation. The Enemy wants to keep you there, but since you’re reading this blog, it sounds like the Holy Spirit is already on the move in your heart! Pay attention to that. There will be discouragement and encouragement from both directions in the battle for your soul. Even though it’s hard, choose Him. And Get. To. Confession. His Mercy is for YOU!

When a person is in consolation, sometimes God allows the consolation to be lifted and they will enter desolation. Desolation never comes from God, but He permits the withdrawal of consolation always for our good. He doesn’t want it to last. We are never actually far from God. I like to think of the image of how God the Father is holding us so close to His chest that when we open our eyes, it’s dark and we can’t see or hear much, but it’s just because we are held tightly in His embrace.

Desolation is a new opportunity to love God for His own sake. To choose Him and trust in His goodness even when the “good feelings” of loving Him leave. God will either allow this to happen because we have been negligent in our spiritual exercises, and because of our own sloth, consolation will withdraw, or it is also to catch our attention because we need to consider, “Do I love Him or do I just love His gifts?”

Also, it is important to know that this is not about your performance in prayer. Often when we are in a season of desolation, we just need to put ourselves in a place to be found: to show up to prayer anyway, to go to Mass. to youth group, to go to Confession. To rest in the love of the Lord’s embrace, and make an act of faith by entrusting our lives to Him even when we can’t feel His love. Stay in a state of grace!

In desolation, you will experience resistance to your faith because you are more sensitive to hearing the lies and accusations of the Enemy. That’s why it is even more important for us to live into our faith at this time. Desolation is often where the rubber meets the road in our faith. The Enemy is trying to hold us back from the intimacy with God that is possible for us even in a place of desolation.

What should I do in a season of Desolation?

1. Make no big life decisions except those that help you to abide in God. When someone is in a state of desolation, St. Ignatius says that they cannot trust themselves to do otherwise.

2. Before you step into prayer, pause and recognize that God is already looking at you with great love.

3. Praise God. Giving God praise and thanks is a great way to express your trust in Him.

4. Keep doing what you’re doing. Live fervently into your daily prayer routine.

5. Lectio-Divina with the Psalms or Gospels, and in the mindset that God wants to speak to you.

6. Make a daily examination of conscience before you go to bed and resolve to amend your life by receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

7. Pray by journaling. Be honest with the Lord about where your heart is and bring everything to the light.

8. Learn about fasting and fast regularly for your intentions, or for the Church.

9. Ask Our Lady about how you can be more receptive to her Son Jesus.

Can you see how the steps we need to take in desolation are very similar to those in consolation? It’s all about remaining in the love of the Lord.

Trusting What this is All About

Persevere in patience! Permit yourself to trust the movements of your heart. Permit yourself to trust that God wants to speak to you. This will never stop being true. If you are experiencing desolation, most likely yours will not be like Mother Teresa’s 50-year long, dark night. Take heart. He wants to speak new clarity into your life. We are called to abide in Him, especially if we are in a season of desolation.

God is always speaking a gradual revelation of love into our lives, because, as Saint John Paul II said, “Beauty reveals Himself slowly.” Sometimes we just need to be patient, because whether we recognize it or not, God is “tirelessly calling each person” to Himself (CCC 2567). He sees your suffering. He sees that you are showing up. He hears you. He wants to give your heart rest. He wants you to trust that before you even go to prayer, He is already there looking upon you with great love. The longing of His heart is for you to be in relationship with Him through every season of consolation and desolation.

We are the ones who grow tired and who have limits on our love. We are the ones who fail to surrender our lives to Him every day. But here’s the good news: On the Cross, God surrendered Himself for our sake. He is not surprised by our unlove. He has claimed us for His own. The battle has been won! There is never a moment when we can’t go running back to Him or when we aren’t good or worthy enough to return His eternal gaze. There is no time for hiding. When we are in a place of consolation and desolation, the only thing that we can keep doing is put ourselves in the position to be found.

In all things, He is always going to find us.

I’m praying for you!