Dealing with Desolation
Inspiration from this blog came from Carlo Carretto's "Summoned by Love"
God, who is over time, subjects himself to time in the Incarnation. He desires to be known and to know us in an intimate way.We also desire to be known by name. Knowing a person's name brings intimacy with a person and helps us understand the other and build a relationship. God has engraved your name on the palm of His hands. You are never forgotten. But sometimes it can feel that we are. We can get stuck in a rut, in the monotony of life, and the pressure of school, work and relationships. It can be hard to see God in our mess and in our problems. He can feel a million miles away. The thing with us humans is "we do not perceive God when He acts, but we shudder when He says nothing" (Carretto). Only recently did I experience a revelation about God. God subjects himself to the lowest of all feelings in the Passion – loneliness, abandonment, sorrow, betrayal, loss, death. How many of us have also felt those emotions and experiences? God is not far away. He is right there in your mess.
God reminds me daily of my poverty. Poverty isn't just lack of money, it can be a lack of health, lack of love, lack of peace, lack of light. "Man's poverty is all embracing. Man is poverty personified. We lack everything. When we hate, we lack love. When we die, we lack life. the free poverty of God sits down beside the forced poverty of us. God's silence is a mark of His respect as he approaches poor humanity. The time for saying things hasn't come yet. He wants to give us time to understand our plight to raise our head and smile despite the flood of ills assailing us. There is a mystery in things, in life, and pain. It is like darkness and to see we have to wait till dawn. Waiting means hoping and hope is human patience and it is precisely in this patience that we learn to possess and know ourselves. God willed to take our poverty on Himself to help Him complete the terrible exodus marked by poverty, suffering and death - to prepare us for the frailty and impotence of things. God's poverty is the highest degree of love - this is the road which leads to God. Our poverty and stillness is what saves us since in our poverty Jesus, who is incarnate love, was able to become Man and become a poor man like us" (Carlo Carretto).
Unavoidable suffering can lead to either resentment or layers of meaning that are meant to mould us in virtue and faith or we suffer in order to teach us something. When I experience spiritual dryness, I'm learning to pay attention. God is stretching your heart for a reason. In desolation, give up the promise of good feelings as the benefit of prayers. If we are in a relationship, we cannot just leave and be discouraged when the feelings run out. Love has to be a choice. We must persist even when it feels like nothing is changing. "I do not want my senses conditioning my relationship with [God, my Father]" (Carlo Carretto). The path to virtue is a stark reality very different from illusion. God wants to strip away all the superficial distraction and be real with you. This path leads you to silence, to the starkness of the cross, to the transparency of darkness yet nothing is more luminous than this pure darkness because finally you are taking off your masks. In the stillness, God is transforming you from immature love to mature love and from preoccupation with self to charity.
Carlo Carretto writes about our whole human existence as if we are in the womb of life and it is dark and painful because we do not see our Creator and are unsure of the future. God forms us by experiences, lessons, and sufferings as a mother nourishes her child with milk and love. It is difficult because everything happens in silence - the transition, the growth, the stretching. God's silence is a sign of your maturity in faith. If the silence frightens you, it is because we are still spiritually immature and we are plagued by noise. We want God to come down on a cloud but God loves to act in silence. This visual might help getting my point across. Who desires water more – a person in a desert or a person at a feast? God wants us to thirst. Like Christ who also experienced thirst, God wants to make us like His Son. We are in the desert to elevate our faith and increase our desire.
Sometimes God stretches us and we receive emptiness because He wants to reveal a more in-depth prayer life that doesn’t depend on feelings. He wants to marry you and He wants to know that you will stick around when things are tough. He wants to move beyond the dating stage of feelings and get into the stillness and sacrifice of love. The tension, the silence, the uncertainty. Embrace the tension.
1. Fidelity in prayer - Relationships are a commitment, and sadly in our society, commitment is dwindling and has lost its meaning. We need to also put work into our relationship with Him. In prayer, speak first to God on each thing you are worrying about or feeling and then take the time to listen! Don’t obsess, say what you are worrying once to God and then listen to Him and pay attention to the stirrings of your heart. If you find yourself obsessing and going back to those worries, read the Bible, do Lectio Divina or do the Divine Office for inspiration. St. Ignatius wrote in Rule 5 in his Discernment of Spirits, when in desolation, don’t change anything, and don’t make any life decisions. Always make decisions in consolation and in a state of peace. So be faithful to prayer and wait in the silence.
2. Be Honest with Yourself and Him - God, our Father, wants you to ask yourself these questions:
Where do I honestly stand before God?
Am I frustrated by a lack of love or a lack of understanding or a lack of God’s presence?
Be brutally honest of where you are at. Honesty orients you to being with God as you’ve already set aside those worries and told God what ails you. Honest talk is key- let God know how you feel. Vent. Cry. Be angry. Be raw. Say to God: "I don't feel anything anymore! I don't see anything anymore!" The desert of the soul leads to real prayer and dialogue. True faith does not need to see or feel, it believes. It is nourished by silence, not noise.
3. Make the old thing ever new – switch up prayer and use what works for you. If you like lectio divina, singing praise and worship or journaling, try those options and see how God speaks to you. He uses so many ways to connect with you. God has carved a specific reserve of love especially for you. He may speak to you through a person, through a song, or movie or book. Begin feeling God through others. See His beauty in everything around you. Hear His voice in your brother or sister or in the Mass readings or on the radio. He’s waiting for you. Work with God, don't try to bypass Him or do it without Him but work side by side in the discomfort, in the tension and in the dryness. Spiritual desolation trains us to become daughters and sons of God. This realization of our identity as belonging to the Father takes our whole life time. Unexpectedly, in the stillness, one day we will acknowledge God as our father and that will be the moment that transformation takes place.
Focus on being a beloved daughter of God. That identity will never change.