In times of deep desolation, what can we do? St. Ignatius encourages us to be faithful to our commitments, to rekindle our prayer and our longing for God, and to wait until the Lord lifts the fog. As our time of deep desolation passes, we will gain a renewed perspective to see the beauty and potential for love, even in the suffering we are undergoing; we will be able to recognize how God is inviting us and how God makes even times of desolation bear fruit. But in the meantime…
How To Avoid Becoming Discouraged by the Darkness
When we are going through great desolation and the darkness is so intense that we really want to give up, this is the time to pull out and use the tools that our Catholic spiritual tradition—especially the tradition of discernment—have given us.
* Continue to pray—be faithful to your usual prayer time. Even if it feels like your prayer is “wasting time,” and that you’re “not getting anything out of it”, remember that times of dryness or desolation in prayer are often the times when God can do the most work in us. If you aren’t doing anything or getting anything out of your prayer, and you continue to faithfully show up and trust in God, God will take over…and work within you in ways that you cannot imagine. (And you may only recognize this afterwards, sometimes years later.) You may wish to vary your prayer if it’s dry: one day, pray the Rosary, another day simply sit quietly with the Lord in Eucharistic adoration.
* Hold fast to your convictions, and the resolutions or course of action you made when you weren’t experiencing such profound desolation. A time of deep discouragement is not usually the time to make big changes in your life. Instead, if you are overwhelmed by the challenge of staying with your convictions and way of living, make small changes in how you live your long-held convictions. Experiment with how you live your convictions, rather than giving up on your actual convictions.
* Don’t get discouraged—or at least, don’t let discouragement grip you too tightly. To gain insight on desolation and darkness, you may want to read what Saint Ignatius has to say about desolation and consolation. (I recommend Discernment of Spirits by Father Timothy Gallagher, OMV)
* Don’t be afraid of the unknown. God is already there. If you are receiving new—even uncomfortable—insights about your life, evaluate them one by one. Could these be possibilities for growth or invitations from God? If you feel your values are shifting, take time to pray with these new insights and desires so that gradually you can discern if or how to act on them. Perhaps take some time to go back to and re-visit your first real encounter with God. Remember his love for you, his invitations to you, his affirmation of who you are. Rest in his loving gaze, and renew your commitment to him, wherever he is leading you.
* Read and pray about God’s love for you and how trusting in God—who is almighty, who loves us, who is faithful—is the best choice you can make every day. Because you are in a spiritually dark or even dry place, find resources that you can read more easily. Read a favorite book of the Bible or a spiritual writer whose insights resonate with you.
* Seek advice from your spiritual director or other mentors; go back to the spiritual wisdom you have already received and have striven to live by. What does it tell you about your current situation?
* Seek support from good friends you trust who share your values, might understand your struggles, and always want what is best for you. Seeking support and comfort can strengthen us in the deep loneliness and suffering that accompanies desolation.
* Make the time to do something that you love to do, that you feel drawn to doing now. Doing something you truly enjoy can give you a place to find a break or comfort from the darkness that you are undergoing. Truly enjoying something can relax you and also give you a safe place to “process” or “connect” the pieces of what you are undergoing.