Throughout my life as a Catholic Christian, I have had moments of abundant grace and peace when my life is well ordered, I am centered on Christ, and prayer comes easily. In those periods of spiritual joy, I am eager to pray with Scripture, frequent the Sacraments, and read edifying books. These times in my life are pure gifts from God.
Over the years, however, I have learned that just like the ocean tide flows in and out, so does my spiritual life. It ebbs and flows. And a period of spiritual joy is likely to be followed by a spiritual funk. Suddenly, my prayer becomes monotonous, even unappealing, and slothful habits like reaching for my phone instead of my Bible sneak back into my life.
Being in a spiritual funk is hard, frustrating, lonely, and relentless. As much as we want to avoid a season of spiritual dryness, the only way to get out of it is by going through it.
Movements of the Heart
In his Spiritual Exercises, Saint Ignatius of Loyola describes these spiritual movements as consolation and desolation. It is important to be aware of these movements of the heart. And in our awareness, we are invited to relate them to the Lord.
Saint Ignatius offers an approach for understanding the different movements produced in the soul, and for recognizing which movements are good (consolation) and which ones are bad (desolation). This is commonly called the Discernment of Spirits.
Consolation is a gift of the Holy Spirit who gives “courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations, and peace. This He does by making all easy, by removing all obstacles so that the soul goes forward in doing good” (Spiritual Exercises #315).
In consolation, or spiritual joy, we experience a desire to do God’s will. We see our lives bearing fruit, because we are abiding in Christ.
Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. // John 15:4-5
When we are in consolation, we often experience graces, such as:
- a sense of community
- humility (being dependent on God; rejecting self-sufficiency)
- being held by the Father
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On the other hand, desolation is not a gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the work of the evil spirit who is inclined to “harass with anxiety, to afflict with sadness, to raise obstacles backed by fallacious reasonings that disturb the soul. Thus, he seeks to prevent the soul from advancing” (#315).
When we are in desolation, or a spiritual funk, we can experience a “darkness of soul, turmoil of spirit, an inclination to what is low and earthly, restlessness rising from many disturbances and temptations … The soul is wholly slothful, tepid, sad, and separated, as were, from its Creator and Lord” (#317).
During a spiritual funk, we can feel an imbalance in our souls that is manifested in a number of ways:
- feelings of inadequacy
How to Get Out of A Spiritual Funk
As mentioned above, the only way out of a spiritual funk or time of desolation is by going through it. And we do this with patience (with ourselves and God), trust, and surrender. Because, as Saint Ignatius says, “consolation will soon return” (#321).
In the midst of desolation, Saint Ignatius advises us to preserve our established prayer habits. He even finds it helpful to intensify prayer, meditation, examination of life, and penance.
“In time of desolation we should never make any change, but remain firm and constant in the resolution and decision which guided us the day before the desolation, or in the decision to which we adhered in the preceding consolation” (#318).
Here are a few spiritual routines and uplifting activities to maintain during desolation:
- daily prayer
- daily lectio divina
- weekly Mass
- monthly Confession
- time with faith-filled friends
- service (intentionally focusing on others, rather than ourselves)
Through these prayerful and edifying pursuits, we maintain a posture that permits the Lord to move us through desolation. Consider the following ways to accept, and even embrace, our desolation:
- Remember a time of consolation and the graces we received.
- Hold onto the Biblical promises of Christ.
- Trust in the Lord to move us through desolation.
- Accept that we cannot do this without Jesus.
- Rest in the Lord.
The Blessing of a Spiritual Funk
This may sound contradictory, but we can find blessing in our spiritual funk or our desolation. We can approach this time of suffering as an opportunity to grow closer to the Lord, lean into His promises, and cultivate deeper self-knowledge.
Above all, during a spiritual funk, it is important to remember that just like the ebb and flow of the ocean tide, we move in and out of spiritual consolation and desolation many times throughout our lives. These movements of the heart are a natural part of the spiritual life. And when we invite God into each moment, we grow in confidence that “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
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