Consolation and Desolation

When we talk about loving God, being human means that we are never totally, 100% in the relationship. We dance close to the Father or to Christ and we pull away. Again and again we dance closer and we pull away. From our point of view we either experience God as being close to us or far removed.

God is not the one who moves away in a relationship with us. He is a constant presence, loving us, offering forgiveness and mercy always. It is in our interior experience of God that we feel that God is embracing us or is remote from us.       Ignatius of Loyola writing in the 16th century used the terms consolation and desolation to describe the rhythms of a relationship to Christ. Consolation includes being loved by God, being in unity with all life, focused outside of our narrow lives—all this brings us positive energy. Desolation on the other hand sees God as remote, focuses us in on ourselves, includes a sense of hopelessness and drains us of energy.

We need to know that these are normal rhythms in our spiritual lives with God. We need to expect both consolation and desolation. It’s how we deal with both that prolongs or shortens our stay. We very much prefer periods of consolation, but it is important not to cling to them as our preferred reality.

As another blogger on the spiritual life, Father Michael J. Najim, writes in “Live Holiness,” “We know from experience, however, that the spiritual life is filled with consolation and desolation, peaks and valleys, light and darkness.”[1] The sense of desolation can be unnerving. It can awaken anxieties, a grasping for the consolation of feeling close to God, sheltered from life’s storms. It can even plunge us into self-criticism and doubt about God or into despair.

As consolation seems to fold into desolation we need to keep to our spiritual disciplines, not to let the desolation be tinged with doubt or fear or anxiety.  If we hold to the feelings of desolation and consolation equally, then we allow the swings in perception to be as they will without upsetting our relationship.

“Now I feel so close to God.” “Now I feel God is so far away from me.” Still I am in relationship with God. I am still loving, I am still patient, I am still kind and I am still giving. The feelings are not a true measure of anything. Look to your will aligned with God’s, to your intention to love and serve him well, to how constant you can be even in the midst of these mood swings.

Stay the course you have set for your life. Don’t be distracted by feelings. What is most real in life is God. Stay with him no matter what.

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