Dryness. Exhaustion. Being burnt out. We all have encountered these unpleasant emotions in some form or another. Whether it is a sudden loss of interest in a sport we were once passionate about, an abrupt decrease in motivation to work hard at our schools or at our jobs, or even when a friend becomes unexpectedly exasperating to us, we all have experienced it. But perhaps the worst realm dryness can rot its way into is our own spirituality. We have all felt it to a certain degree, some much more than others. It seeps into every facet of our faith life, plaguing our minds with maddening enticements such as skepticism, uncertainty, indifference, and the desire to use and be used. It acts in the same way water does to potholes in roads. First it fills the cracks, and then ices over, driving the road farther apart from itself, creating even larger fissures then the ones that previously existed. Dryness finds every weak point in our relationship with God, and expands those even farther. Perhaps the worst part of spiritual dryness is not the creeping doubts nor the looming uncertainty, but rather the feeling of absolute abandonment and seclusion in our struggle. Maybe you do not feel completely forsaken, but feel lost when trying to hear His Voice or discerning His Will.
Well, I am here today to remind you of one thing:
YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
I myself have struggled a lot recently with my own spiritual desert. While I had been stuck in it for at least a couple months, it took adoration while in D.C. for the March For Life for me to finally come to terms with my cross. Why did it take all the way until then for me to at last realize I was stuck in a spiritual desert? I had filled up my busy life with activities that acted as mirages that convinced me I was not in a desert, or at least distracted me from that fact. And so many of these activities were good for me and are good for me, so long as I do not use them as ways to keep my attention away from my Creator. But that is exactly what I did. I recognized my lack of peace and instead of seeking a resolution, I sought a way to cover it up. Finally, in D.C., 1000 miles away from all my activities, I stripped away the mirages, the distractions, and I did not like what I found. I felt terribly conflicted and confused. In the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, Screwtape, a literal demon mentor to his demon apprentice and nephew Wormwood, informs Wormwood,
There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy [God]. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them
(Lewis Letter VI).
That was exactly the trap I had fallen into. Becoming shortsighted, I only thought about what was happening to me that day and the next day, not the things I would do that mattered most in the long run, such as my spiritual journey.
So you are probably wondering how I got myself out of the ditch I had dug for myself. Let me tell you, it took a lot of effort to begin to climb my way out. First, I stripped away my pride and took an honest look at my faith life. Recognizing that it had become very dry, I moved to the next stage, searching out solutions and engaging in conversations with other friends about my own spiritual dryness, asking for the prayers and suggestions. I decided on reading a book about peace, and resolved to seek out a more personal relationship with God. I am still on the uphill slope, but I am already beginning to feel the graces from the Holy Spirit as a result of my own conscious choice to intentionally pursue God, despite initially feeling totally separated from Him and His Voice. Again in the Screwtape Letters, Screwtape cautions Wormwood,
Our cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys
(Lewis Letter VII).
Mother Teresa, now a revered saint, experienced her own spiritual desert, which she referred to as “the darkness,” and lasted for fifty years, her “whole working life” (Crabtree). While she radiated joy on the outside to all those around her, she really felt abandoned and forsaken by her Creator until the day she died. Keep in mind if you ever feel that same darkness that Mother Teresa did, you are in good company, joining saints such as St. Mother Teresa, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and St. John of the Cross (Scott).
If you continue fighting through your desert, you darkness, and yet still do not find the peace and joy you seek, know that your reward will be great in heaven, for your struggle here on earth will make you a light for others, even if you yourself walk alone in darkness. If you find yourself falling down under the weight of your own cross, know that Jesus understands your hardships. In John 11:9-10 Jesus tells His disciples, “If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of the world. But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” For some of us, we are given the cross of spiritual darkness and we do not feel that light within us that Jesus speaks about. It is okay to fall and get up again when facing such agonizing abandonment. It is okay to feel lost and abandoned. It is okay to not be sure where you should turn. But know in your heart that God values your effort to come to know Him. The choice to turn to him when emotions and intellect scream at you not to is one of extreme power and infinite value.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
Alex John Paul
Crabtree, Shona. “Book Uncovers a Lonely, Spiritually Desolate Mother Teresa.” ChristianityToday.com, Religion News Service, 30 Aug. 2007, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/augustweb-only/135-43.0.html.
Lewis, C. S. The Screwtape Letters. Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1980.
Scott, Davis. “Mother Teresa’s Long Dark Night.” chapter 17 in The Love That Made Mother Teresa (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2013): 107-113.