Have many of you been to a desert? Perhaps the most popular known desert is called Sahara Desert. It covers several countries such as Algeria, Chard, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Morocco and more! It extends over 9 million square kilometres and covers about 25% of the African continent (wiki). Now going to Sahara Desert perhaps is not really on top your list for your next trip (neither do I!).
Some people may be interested to have an adventure in a desert but for most people may not be the case. But I think we all can agree that it is not very exciting to be stranded in the middle of a desert even if you are a desert lover. It does actually happen, not just in the movies. Stuck in the desert means that you will eventually run out of water, supplies and you might have to travel for several hundreds kilometres to find your way out. That is if you are walking in the right direction. The same can happen to our spiritual life. We too can get stuck in a Desert-like Spiritual Condition or DSC as I like to call it (yes, I made it up.) The more commonly known name is Spiritual Desolation. But let’s just use DSC for convenience. We might have the option to go to one of the deserts for our next vacation, but to be in a DSC is often not so much of a choice – otherwise no one will ever be in it. So I believe that everyone will somehow encounter it but we do have a choice on how to overcome it especially during this Lent season where a lot of people associated for being “in the desert” like condition.
Trust me that being in a DSC is definitely not the most exciting phase of my life that I would rather getting physically sick and know that I will recover in a couple of days or weeks. A DSC means you can be physically and mentally weak, not bothered to do anything, not feeling like praying or opening your Bible, or going to church feel like a burden rather than a chance to encounter Jesus Christ. To put simply, you feel meh.
I like to think a DSC is just like the Economic Cycle. It has a Peak and Trough period as well as Recession and Recovery phase. There are similarities between a DSC and the Economic Cycle. First, it is a cycle, which means that it is repeating. Secondly, If you google the Economic Cycle, you may find that most of the graph showing a positive trend. Now I cannot say whether it is applicable to all people, of course, but I believe that each one of us will have that several cycles throughout our life. Some say that a recession happens every 8 years but we might not share the same cycle. Some may have shorter cycle while others longer. And as far as a positive trend concerns, having a DSC period is not so much a problem as long as we keep going on that way. This means as our spiritual maturity and faith grow so does our ability to overcome the Trough periods.
It is perfectly normal to experience this. Saints and Holy People throughout centuries experienced this, so we will not be immune by it. However, being in a DSC does not necessarily mean that we just do nothing about it. In fact, we might need to do more so that we do not drift further away from God, our ultimate source of our Faith.
The best way to start to combat this is to follow St Ignatius of Loyola’s 4 key practices:
- Pray – Simple yet powerful. If you don’t feel like praying, well pray anyway! It is the simplest yet a powerful method to combat the devil from taking us further away from God. No prayer ever goes in vain if you sincerely say it. The Lord always listens.
- Meditate – The Bible is a good start. It is often difficult to open the Bible (let alone reading it) especially during a DSC but it will only do good than harm, right? So read it anyway! It will strengthen your Faith and let you remember His promises again. Often though, you may see verses like “God is good, He always listens, ask and you shall receive” and you think “No that can’t be real, at least not in my situation.” It can be difficult but know that His word is True and never changing. Don’t let our circumstances change our perception of God.
- Examination – It is perhaps the easiest and most popular way to combat our DSC by avoiding it and doing something else. Watching Korean variety show in my case! While it is not wrong but it is better for us to escape the busyness of our life especially social media and take time to stop and reflect. What is causing it? What have I been doing?
- Penance (fasting, abstinence) – This could be the most difficult one. So we are at the bottom of our spiritual life but we have to do penance. But the truth is: Sin always contributes to our spiritual desolation and it definitely is the cause of our spiritual downturn. If we can somehow combat it by doing the opposite such as fasting or abstinence, we might be able to see the reverse effect. It might be difficult but definitely not impossible. Again as the other three above, do it anyway.
If we are currently in a DSC or Spiritual Desolation, then let’s do this together friends. I know that He is cheering for us. Yes it is not easy and definitely easier to say than done. But we have to keep pushing through and cannot be stagnant. I am sure many of you have gone through several Trough many times but they say if you are at the very bottom already, the Recovery phase is just around the corner and Peak time shall arrive soon. I know there will be a rainbow after the rain. (DL)
St. Ignatius of Loyola’s promise: As long as we have made a fundamental choice for God in our lives and have abandoned (or never entered into) a life involving serious sin, we will find, through prayer, meditation, examination, and penance, the road that surely leads through the battleground of desolation into the peace of God’s love.