5 Tips for Facing Spiritual Desolation
Spiritual consolation and desolation are normal parts of the spiritual life that we all experience as we grow and develop in faith. Neither one lasts forever; we are always cycling between consolation and desolation. When we are in spiritual consolation, we often feel energized and very close to God. But when we are in spiritual desolation, we can feel distant from God and tempted to give up on our prayer practices. During such periods, it is crucial that we devote time and energy to our relationship with God to make it through the desolation without losing faith. Here are some tips for approaching spiritual desolation:
1. Recall times of spiritual consolation
If you feel like God is far away, think back to a specific moment of consolation when you felt the presence of God in a special way. Remind yourself that God is just as close to you now as he was then, even if you don’t feel his presence in the same way. When you experience graces and times of consolation, be sure to take careful note of them and even express them through a medium like writing, music, or art. That way, you can refer to these moments when you are most in need.
2. Don’t change your prayer life
During times of desolation, it can be very tempting to shorten your normal prayer or skip customary parts of your prayer life. After all, spiritual desolation can make prayer feel dry and taxing and convince you that you are not getting anything out of it. Keep in mind that prayer is a conversation. God is always present in that conversation, even if you are having trouble hearing him. Make yourself available to listen and show God your diligence and dedication. If you give in to the temptation to cut back in your prayer life, that will become a habit—and that is never what God wants.
3. Be honest with God
Being honest with God is always important. But it can be especially freeing during times of desolation. God knows when you are experiencing desolation, and he does not want you to pretend that everything is fine. He is allowing desolation to happen so that you can grow from it. When you pray, tell God how you are feeling, and ask him for the grace to learn from what you are experiencing. Express your desire to once again feel close to him.
4. Figure out where the desolation is coming from
According to St. Ignatius of Loyola, spiritual desolation can happen for three reasons:
- We have sinned, resulting in consolation being taken away.
- God wants to awaken us to any darkness that has taken root in our lives.
- God wants to remind us that consolation is a gift from him, not something we have earned for ourselves.
When you identify why your spiritual desolation is happening, you can begin to see how to overcome it. Think carefully about when your desolation began and what was happening in your spiritual life at that time. Once you discover the reason for the desolation, you can also begin to discern what you can learn from the experience.
5. Perform acts of prayer and penance
Sometimes, God wants to see that you will respond to him with love even when you are not receiving consolation from him. Persevere in prayer and perform small acts of penance in reparation for your sins. God’s consolation is not a transaction, but he is always glad to see you respond to him with love.
Please remember that spiritual desolation is different from mental and physical illness or distress. If you are not sure whether you are experiencing spiritual desolation, talk to your priest or spiritual director. They will help guide you in the right direction.