The Ignatian Year X: Dealing with Desolation

St. Ignatius recognizes that there will be times when we are in a state of spiritual desolation, that is where we are feeling a lack of faith, of hope and of love.  When we feel separated from God. Here is how Ignatius describes desolation:

 I call desolation what is entirely the opposite of what is described [as spiritual consolation], as darkness of soul, turmoil of spirit, inclination to what is low and earthly, restlessness rising from many disturbances and temptations which lead to want of faith, want of hope, want of love.  The soul is wholly slothful, tepid, sad, and separated, as it were, from its Creator and Lord.  For just as consolation is the opposite of desolation, so the thoughts that spring from consolation are the opposite of those that spring from desolation. 

The Rules of Discernment contained in his Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises include some good advice for dealing with such times of desolation.

First: Don’t panic and don’t make any changes.  Ignatius encourages us to remain firm and strong and dependent on God’s grace even when we do not have a felt sense of God’s presence.  We do that, he suggests, by remembering our moments of consolation.  And importantly, he advises us not to make any major changes in our lives. This is important: in desolation the enemy spirit has a greater chance of being the guide, and “[f]ollowing his counsels,” Ignatius says, “we can never find the way to a right decision.”

Second, Ignatius advises us to try to move against the desolation.  So not panicking does not mean just go with the flow.  Rather it means to keep praying.  If you experiencing dryness in prayer, don’t stop praying, keep praying.

Third, Ignatius reminds us that we can resist the pull of desolation with the help of God.  That we are not alone in fighting against the desolation. Thus we need to remind ourselves that God is in control. 

Finally, Ignatius counsels patience. Hang in there – This will pass – Remember who God is.  Be patient.  Do not give up.  David Fleming’s translation of this rule says,

Patience can mitigate the frustration, dryness, or emptiness of the desolation period and so allow us to live through it a little less painfully.  We should try to recall that everything has its time, and consolation has been ours in the past and will be God’s gift to us in the future.  Patience should mark even the efforts we undertake to work against the desolation which afflicts us.

What else have you found helpful in dealing with periods of desolation?

Note that this is a the tenth in a series of posts in celebration of the Ignatian Year, which began on May 20 of this year.