Dry, Barren, and … Hopeful?April 17th, 2014
A few weeks ago, I happened to have two different conversations with two very different people in two very different places about the exact same thing: Spiritual dryness. Both people talked about not feeling God’s presence, about wanting so desperately to have something concrete to hold on to – some proof that He was there, but finding nothing. Both people talked about a feeling of desolation, and wondered if there was something wrong with them.
Sometimes even though we believe in God and we try our best to live out our faith, we all go through times like this – times when God seems far away. And it’s so frustrating because we often have the impression that if we do all the right things and live like God wants us to live, we’re supposed to have lives of joy. How can it be that we go to Mass every week, spend time with God each day in prayer, and still He seems so distant and life seems like a dry, barren, desert? It just doesn’t seem fair.
I wish there were easy answers for this spiritual suffering, but the truth is, there are none. Some of the greatest saints struggled with this particular pain in their lives. St. John of the Cross called it the “dark night of the soul”. Teresa of Avila once prayed, “Jesus, if this is how you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few of them.” Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta’s journals, published after her death, revealed that she spent the last 50 years of her life in this spiritual desert. In 1948, she’d heard God’s voice clearly and felt his presence strongly as he called her to minister to the poorest of the poor. She thought that if she gave her life over to God, it would always be like that, but she never heard his voice again.
I go through long periods of this dryness myself. I’m very much a “head” guy as opposed to a “feelings” guy, and my faith has always been an intellectual matter. I came to believe in Jesus Christ and in his Church because it made more sense than anything else I examined. And very often, even though I really want an emotional connection with Christ, that knowledge is all I have to lean on.
One consolation I have is that Christ himself experienced this same separation from God. As he hangs on the cross, Jesus cries out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Think about that for a second. Jesus is God in the flesh. He has existed since before time and the entire Universe is a result of the love he shares with God the Father. And even he felt abandoned. Jesus knows our pain.
The other thing is this: just because we don’t feel God, doesn’t mean he’s not there. He was with the Israelites in their desert and he will be with us in ours. He was with Daniel in the lion’s den and he will help us face the things that want to devour us as well; he walked through the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and he will walk with us when we feel like we’re getting burned. Psalm 23 reminds us that when we pass through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Christ will walk with us. He was with the apostles as their boat was rocked by the waves, and he will help calm the storms in our lives.
The Jews had to spend 40 years in the desert to get to the Promised Land. Daniel had to face the lions and the 3 Hebrew children were cast into the fiery furnace. Jesus had to endure Good Friday to get to Easter. Don’t forget that the Valley of the Shadow of Death is something we walk through. Keep the faith. Rely on God. And though you may not feel him right now, know that he is there and that all shall be well in the end.