If you struggle in prayer and prayer is hard and you feel lost and lonely and unsure: you’re on the right track. You’re making progress.
Desolation is a grace, a gift, because it shows us we’re not the ones who make things happen. We’re not in charge. Desolation teaches us, St. Ignatius says, that “it is not within our power to acquire or retain great devotion, ardent love, tears, or any other spiritual consolation, but that all of this is a gift and grace of God our Lord.” Desolation demonstrates we shouldn’t “claim as our own what belongs to another, allowing our intellect to rise up in a spirit of pride or vainglory, attributing to ourselves the devotion or other aspects of spiritual consolation.”
Think of it: how do we know we’re not making this up? How do we know it’s God we’re encountering? Exactly because grace comes and goes. As Thomas Green puts it, paraphrasing St. John of the Cross: “the best proof that it is really God is that he is often absent when we seek him, and present when we are not seeking him.” If religion were merely the opiate of the masses, if I were just manufacturing God to make myself feel better, I’d produce him on the spot. I’d make myself joyous all the time.
Desolation shouldn’t just humble us, it should encourage us, it should give us strength, because then, when the joy comes, when the idea comes, when the problem goes away, when the sun pours down, we can rejoice and be glad. Because we know: it’s not us. We just happen to be here. We didn’t plan anything. We didn’t do anything. It’s the Lord who is sending the peace and the joy, it’s the Lord who is with us.
from Light When It Comes (Eerdmans)