Posted on December 1st, 2020
How many of our Directees have been feeling sluggish, tired and far from God over the course of the pandemic, and even more so now with lockdown 2.0, shorter days and increasing financial uncertainty? Spiritual desolation (i.e. feelings that take us away from God and others as opposed to simply feelings of desolation about the state of the world, etc. ) has become a common theme of conversations between Directees and Spiritual Directors during this time. Many feel that God is far away.
Spiritual desolation is not something we ourselves can change (only God can do that) but St Ignatius offers us ways to deal with spiritual desolation when we are in the thick of it.
St Ignatius recommends that we should not make any changes to decisions that were made when we were in consolation (i.e. anything that leads us towards God and others resulting in an increase in faith, hope and love). When in desolation, there is a tendency to listen to the voice that takes us away from God and others and towards feelings of anxiety, confusion and isolation. Listening to this voice can lead us to make changes that are detrimental in the long term. Best to sit tight until the time of desolation passes.
So, what can we do during a time of spiritual desolation? St Ignatius encourages us to increase our time in prayer, meditation and reflecting on our feelings, motivations and actions. We must persevere. Although we may not feel the presence of God during a time of desolation, He is there and at some point, spiritual consolation will return.
Spiritual desolation is not ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – it just is. We all go through it and move out of it. St Ignatius does give us some guidance on why we experience spiritual desolation from time to time. In his Spiritual Exercises, he lists three main reasons: 1) we have been tepid in our desire for God and this has led to a movement into desolation, 2) God uses it as a time of pruning so that we can grow stronger in our faith, 3) God wants us to realise our dependence on Him – that all we have and are is a gift from God and not of our own making.
Times of spiritual desolation are hard but if we accept it and stay present, they offer an opportunity to learn important lessons that will help us grow into our ‘best self.’ We can be confident that times of spiritual desolation will pass.
This current time of spiritual desolation for many can be a time of growing in faith and preparing the ground for new opportunities to come and a future time of consolation.
Emily Miller, Spiritual Director offering general spiritual direction and in giving the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola in their various forms