For those times when it seems as if God doesn't fully see you, hear you, or love you
I grew up thinking that a relationship with God was a transaction: I gave God very minimal amounts of my time and prayer, and I was supposed to “get” something from Him. I assumed I would get a feeling, a word, a vision. It didn’t help that my Youth Ministry put a very big emphasis on the fact that spiritual desolation was not normal, and that you can and would get something from God if you tried.
Throughout my schooling I felt ignored by God. “I must be too sinful,” I thought. I looked around and everyone had a story to tell, a revelation to share. I couldn’t relate. I turned the words “atheist” and “agnostic” around in my mind. They seemed so foreign, but so satisfying. “God if you’re out there, take that!” I said. That’ll show Him! I don’t need Him!
That was about three years ago, and I have since found my faith. However, I still struggle immensely from feeling like God doesn’t fully see me, hear me, or love me. Here are some tips that I’ve used to help me get through one of the most painful spiritual experiences: desolation.
1. Look to Mother Teresa (Saint Teresa of Calcutta)
Mother Teresa is known for her experience of spiritual desolation. “I am convinced,” she said, “that even one moment is enough to ransom an entire miserable existence, an existence perhaps believed to be useless.” In the little experience she had with feeling God’s presence, she knew that what she had been given was a grace, and that it was real. She shows us how we should see but a moment of God’s love as a gift worth an entire life of misery. She looked back and saw how God had worked in her life, and that fed her, and pushed her forward, during her desolate years.
Let us, like Mother Teresa, look at the times we have intimately encountered Christ, and instead of wanting more, thank God for what He has already bestowed on us; and then push forward to extend God’s kingdom here on earth.
2. Adoration and prayer
I recently had an experience in adoration I will never forget. After talking to a Dominican nun about my spiritual desolation, I went to adoration to take some of her advice. She told me to maybe just try resting in His holy presence, instead of grasping for something from God.
So, I go into adoration and I am at Jesus’s feet. Like an opened floodgate, a prayer starts to rush out of me. “God, I am tired. I come here every single time seeking, grasping, and reaching for something. I don’t even know what I am searching for. I am drained. I guess I just want to be validated in how the world has told me that You love me. It’s tiring, Lord. I am exhausted! I give You this. I don’t want it anymore. Take this from me. Let You be enough for me. Let me rest in You, and come with no expectations as to what I will get out of it.”
I finally felt free — not from desolation, but from the stress of trying to constantly resist it. Now, I feel free to be in desolation. I feel free to leave shame at the door. I feel free to stop grappling at the sides of my desolate soul, trying to get out. I can just be.
Going before Jesus and giving up our struggles to Him will never be wasted time. Make time to go before Him and give up your insecurities that desolation brings. It will leave you more free than you could ever imagine.
3. And finally… see it as a gift.
St. Ignatius, in his “Rules for the Discernment of Spirits,” first says that if we aren’t trying to make things work with God, they won’t. More importantly, however, he says desolation can be allowed by God to see how far we will go in faith — even in the desert of our souls, to bring Him praise and glory. Third he says it can be a way to get us to see consolation as a true gift that only God can give. In saying consolation is a gift, Ignatius implies desolation as something crucial to our recognition of consolation not as a prize or something we earn or get every time we come to prayer, but rather a blatant gift from God. Thus, making desolation a gift for giving us that realization.
So, yes, it is easy to “give up.” It is easy to be jealous. But it is hard to persevere and give God everything we have, even if we feel that we aren’t necessarily getting everything we think we need. It is hard to pick up our Bible and say “God, I give this time to You, because I want to advance Your kingdom no matter what condition my heart and soul are in.”
We all suffer. We all have a cross to carry, no matter how big or small. Why not accept the cross as an opportunity for sanctification? An opportunity to show God He is worth our struggle, our pain and our constant perseverance?
So, let us be like Mother Teresa, and so many other holy men and women, striving towards sainthood when it is hardest to strive. When it is hardest to pray. And when it is hardest to lift our eyes to the one who loves us.
God, make us saints through this.