How to Navigate through Spiritual Deserts You are Guaranteed to Encounter

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Saint Pope Pius V once declared, “All the evil in the world is due to lukewarm Catholics.”  Definitely a strong statement made by a leader of the Catholic Church during the Counter-Reformation Pius V’s reflect his historical context. The 16th century includes fiery religious debates and heresies running amok. Although Pius V lived over 500 years ago, his claim that lukewarmness is connected to evil remain ever relevant.

Arguably no more climate on earth is more deadly than a desert. Dictionaries define a desert as “arid land with usually sparse vegetation especially such land having a very warm climate and receiving less than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of sporadic rainfall annually”. While technically cold deserts exist in the Arctic and Antarctic, the commonality for all deserts is the existence of little rainfall. I got the inspiration for writing on the topic of deserts and spiritual dryness during Sunday Mass. In his homily, the priest spoke of the need to trust in the Lord always. He referred to the intense cold temperatures and lack of hope in the season of winter and that while Easter will come that we have to go through the season of Lent first. 

Just as a physical desert lacks the comforts of water so too a depletion of spiritual consolation exists during periods of spiritual aridity. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2728,

Finally, our battle has to confront what we experience as failure in prayer: discouragement during periods of dryness; sadness that, because we have “great possessions,”15 we have not given all to the Lord; disappointment over not being heard according to our own will; wounded pride, stiffened by the indignity that is ours as sinners; our resistance to the idea that prayer is a free and unmerited gift; and so forth. The conclusion is always the same: what good does it do to pray? To overcome these obstacles, we must battle to gain humility, trust, and perseverance.

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Being stuck in a spiritual “rut” feels hopeless. The monotony of the spiritual desert presents problems that the Enemy utilizes to trap humans. Dryness in the spiritual life is still a blessing from God. However, how you react to existing in a spiritual dry spell may be a greater blessing or lead to great decay. I wish to expand on the three “travel tips” presented by the Catechism and how to traverse the metaphysical monotony.

  1. Humility: According to St. Vincent de Paul, “The most powerful weapon to conquer the devil is humility. For, as he does not know at all how to employ it, neither does he know how to defend himself from it.” Satan knows well that prayer leads to a deeper connection with God and that when spiritual comforts cease [for a period of time] that is the prime time for him to sow and later reap doubts in us. Along with humility being able to fend off the Devil, it is a vital virtue that allows us to recognize that we do not have all the answers [or the complete set of directions] in life. Be humble enough to continue to ask God for help during spiritual dryness!

2. Trust: The Catechism wisely listed trust after humility as a means to overcome spiritual aridity. Without the gift of the virtue of humility trust in someone other than ourselves would not be possible. Being stuck in a particular stage in life, especially the spiritual life, appears to be hopeless. It is easy to rely solely on emotions and feel like you want to give up prayer, sacrifice, good works, etc. Surfing my Facebook newsfeed I came across the following meme that relates to self-doubt amid trials:

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While this refers specifically to the most “difficult” days, I would add to be mindful to remind yourself that even on the most ‘boring, mundane, and uninteresting’ of days, weeks, or months to keep the faith and trust “that all things work for good for those who love God,* who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

3. Perseverance: The third way to combat monotony in the spiritual desert is to persist. Keep up your daily prayers even when you do not feel any comfort, presence, or joy from God. According to St. John of the Cross, “The endurance of darkness is the preparation for great light.” Sojourning through the dryness of the spiritual may seem like you lack the ability to gain any insight about God, but realize persisting when all seems ordinary and arid will only serve to guide you through that spiritual desolation.

St. Padre Pio famously quipped, “Pray, hope, and don’t worry!” Be humble enough to trust that the Lord will guide your through times of current and future spiritual deserts.

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Thank you for sharing!