In our Christian faith, it is not uncommon to go through dry spiritual phases of our life. In these phases we experience doubt, lack of spiritual fire and enthusiasm, as well as in some cases, spiritual neglect. We refer to these times as periods of desolation.
The desert fathers, St Teresa of Avila, as well as St Ignatius Loyola, all refer to these periods of times where the heart does not feel the response of the divine and feels, as Christ did on the cross, all but forsaken. We also see it in the story of Job, where Job appears to have lost everything until the Lord repays him sevenfold for his miseries.
How we perceive and navigate these troubled spiritual waters of desolation are key to our Christian Spiritual Life. We must see them as crosses and challenges to our faith that will only make us stronger and help us arise from our desolation into a divine consolation far greater than we could ever imagine.
One of the first key fruits of desolation is humility. While Christ has become our brother in flesh, we must still realize our unworthiness of such divine friendship. Desolation helps remind us of our sinful nature and the steps we must take to become worthy of divine presence. It is our sin nature that prevents divine consolation and it is what separate us, not the divine who is still knocking desperately for us to hear.
Second, it strengthens our reliance upon God. It tests our faith and forces us to realize how weak and fragile we truly are when the sweet voice of the divine is hard to hear or find shelter in. When the return of the divine presence is felt and manifested, we truly realize the gift we have and also understand how like a loving parent, God was there the whole time, but helping us learn.
Third, the sweet and blessed doubt of our faith during desolation is not a sin, but can be actually a reaffirmation of our faith. Like Thomas, who doubted and needed to see, we sometimes need a tangible presence. During such desolation, we do not reject God, but are tormented by his absence and hence demand his presence. We cannot control the divine, but if we are truly children and he is truly our Father, then asking for his grace is when in doubt is far from a sin, but a blessed thing; Again forcing us to realize our dependence upon him.
Like Thomas, we want to believe, we want to see! But, we must also realize the words of our Lord that those who have not seen yet still believe, truly are blessed. In our pursuit of God, when lost in our desolation, we see our greatest display of faith, which is fueled by the virtue of hope to know that God will return and supply his presence in sacred consolation.
We can also learn so much from Christ during his own desolation on earth, when he took upon the nature of a slave to redeem us. We can see his triumph over all desolation during the temptation, in the garden and on the cross. He should be our paradigm and inspiration
If you would like to learn more about Christian spirituality or would like to be better equipped to help your spiritual children, please review the Christian Counseling Program and see if it matches your academic and professional needs.