By Marcella Chua
Not long ago, I hit an all-time-low in my spiritual journey, I realized I couldn’t feel the presence of God at all. It was really sudden and I couldn’t find an explanation for it. I felt extremely confused and abandoned, because I thought my relationship with God at that time was pretty good. As someone who relied heavily on God and found much of my joy in Him, I despaired, and even wondered if every spiritual encounter I experienced thus far was just my imagination. It wasn’t until recently that I began to learn what spiritual desolation was really about.
Spiritual desolation, as described by St Ignatius of Loyola, is “the darkness of soul…as if separated from one’s Creator and Lord.” As journeying Christians, many of us have experienced this lack of God’s presence before. Strangely enough, we realize that growth in faith and prayer seems to be coupled with spiritual desolation.
As Thomas Green S.J. puts it, there are 3 reasons why God permits spiritual desolation:
- We fall into sin due to our own negligence.
Sin can be a consequence when we become negligent in our discipline (e.g. not praying often, skipping mass or sacramental reconciliation
- To test our worth and purify us.
Often, we need challenges to test our resolve and discern our intentions
- To teach us that any consolation is a gift and grace from God, not attained on our own.
This is slightly more complicated, due to the fact that we, as humans, cannot fully understand how God works.
What we can be sure of, however, is that God’s plans for us are always for our good, and never to harm us (Jeremiah 29:11). Many of us know the pain and struggle of a seemingly absent God, but do we know that spiritual desolation is actually cause for rejoicing?
During spiritual desolation, we find it difficult to see or recognize God in our lives
Nothing seems to touch our hearts, and we struggle to believe that God is with us. But consider this; our God is an infinite God, and we are finite beings. As Thomas Green S.J. puts it, “It is impossible for an infinite God to be captured by our finite thoughts, images and feelings.” Just like how the sea cannot fit through a tiny funnel, God’s presence cannot be processed by our physical senses. Green proposes that in such moments, God is so close to us that his light blinds us and overwhelms our senses, making us think that we are in the dark.
How should we respond, then? With patience and perseverance in prayer. Since God is so close to us, we must do our utmost to receive Him gracefully. Understandably, this may be difficult, and I, too, struggled terribly, because prayer with my inability to detect the Spirit just seemed to amplify my feelings of abandonment. In this time, I let my mind make up for where my heart failed. I recalled the first time I fell in love with God, and the times when my heart burned for Him. There must have been something that made me feel that way, and that something is God.
“Heart” is an ambivalent word: it involves our emotion, but it also involves our will.” (Thomas Green S.J.) Responding to God in spiritual desolation will take much effort, but it will be worth it. You may not always feel like praying, but you are still able to decide to pray anyway, and that “yes” will be your act of love to God. Ask God for the grace and strength to persevere in pursuing Him, and cling to His promise: “I am with you always, yes, till the end of time.” [Mathew 28:20]
During my time of spiritual desolation, I also struggled with believing in the existence of God. I shared this with a friend and she pointed out that since this spiritual desolation was not initiated by me, it must have been initiated by someone else. This someone else can only be God, a divine power. Thus, it shows that God does exist!
By the grace of God, I managed to persevere through this season of dryness, and was met with a love that reminded me why I started this journey in the first place. Our God is an infinite God who loves us perfectly and promises good plans for us. He has never failed and will never fail. Your efforts in drawing closer to God will never be wasted and you will find yourself with a joy so indescribable that it makes all suffering worthwhile.
Take heart! May the Lord bless you with strength and courage for your journey!
“Why are you in despair, my soul?
Why are you disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him,
The Saviour of my entire being, and my God.”[Psalm 42:11]
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