What do you think of when you think of a desert? If you say cheesecake…that’s dessert…not desert…good try though!! Perhaps you think of those fun looking cactus plants or hot dry desert sand…perhaps you think of one of those country western shows! Being in the desert is not pleasant… actually it is very uncomfortable!! However, everyone must go through a desert experience at some point…especially the desert experience in our prayer life. What happens when we are in the desert? We seek out water. Jesus is the living water that we search for in our desert experience of prayer.
It is very common during the purgative stage of the journey to experience dryness in prayer. Many people ask, “What do I do when my prayer life seems dry and empty?” What is dryness in prayer? Dryness in prayer is an experience of not being able to feel the presence of God during our prayer. Perhaps we are not experiencing His presence the way that we did before…however, God is very present!! There may be a few causes to this dryness in prayer that I found in reading, The Fulfillment of All Desire by Ralph Martin. In this book, he goes through the different stages of the spiritual journey. We will explore specifically what he says about lukewarmness and lack of fidelity to our prayer life, fatigue or illness, and the experience of the dark night!!
It is possible that we have become careless in fidelity to our spiritual life especially through neglect of daily prayers, attending Mass, lack of spiritual reading and so on. It is possible that we have become careless in fighting temptations as well. There may be times when distractions of worldly entertainments enter into our lives and we may make them the center of our life. What is the solution to this lukewarmness and infidelity? The solution is to come back to being faithful. We need to humble ourselves, ask God for forgiveness and realize that we have not been as faithful to God as we should be. Then, with complete and total confidence in God’s love for us, we get back on our feet and try to do better!
Sometimes there are other reasons for dryness in prayer such as fatigue and illness. We are composed of body and soul so our mental, physical, psychological, emotional state can greatly affect our relationship with God. Fatigue and illness will come in our lives. However, the important thing is how we carry this burden. Indeed, the saints encourage us to seek medical attention when we need to do so. They also propose another way to handle fatigue and illness… by offering up everything and uniting our sufferings with the sufferings of Christ. St. Francis says, “Look often with your inward eyes on Christ Jesus, crucified, naked, blasphemed, slandered, forsaken, and overwhelmed with every kind of weariness, sorrow and labour. Remember that your sufferings are not comparable to His…you can never suffer for His sake anything equal to what he has suffered for you.” However, when we offer our sufferings to God, He takes them and we become instruments of His love in the world! Through offering our sufferings, souls can and will be saved!!
When we feel loved by God is it easy to love Him in return? This is a question that raises another question: “Are we loving God for Himself, or for do we love Him only for what we receive from Him?” It is clear that we cannot rely solely on our emotions. Even though we cannot feel God’s presence sometimes, or even feel His love for us…does that mean God has stopped loving us? Does that mean that God is no longer present with me? Am I now alone on this journey? NO!! God permits the dark night at times in order to purify our love for the Lord. A good sign that God has permitted us to enter this dark night is basically when we continue to serve and please the Lord despite how we are feeling. A wife and mother may not feel like getting up to comfort and console the crying baby, but she does it because she loves that child. Even though we may not feel like praying, if we do it anyways, God is glorified. Also, this dark night could be a sign that God is aiding the soul to enter into a different form of prayer, a prayer of quiet. The prayer of quiet involves being still before God in the silence and know that He is God. God wants the soul to rely on Him and not His consolations as sweet as they are when they come. Consolations from God are a good thing, they give us strength when the road gets tough; however we should not go looking for them. If consolations come, we should thank God and move forward. If dryness comes, we praise the Lord anyway!!
So, these are just some things to think about…the bottom line is we cannot be impatient when it comes to our spiritual life, rather we must hold fast to Jesus as best as we can in prayer trusting that He is very near to us and He will never abandon us!!