I used to think that desolation was a state one entered for a long period of time, like Mother Teresa experiencing years of dry prayer. Lately, though, and perhaps because I’m using the Examen more faithfully, I’ve learned that a single day can hold both consolation and desolation like a zig-zag line or a roller coaster. I’m pushed and pulled simultaneously by various forces, quickly passing from things that increase faith, hope, and love to those which disquiet, agitate, and tempt.
Take today. I was washing my hands in the restroom, just rubbing my palms together under running water. And suddenly I remembered Fr. Tri Dinh, SJ, teaching me this gesture to show appreciation instead of clapping. I suddenly found myself giving thanks to God, showing appreciation for clean water and this brief silent moment—right there in the bathroom. Thank you, God! Even in ordinary tasks, God is present.
And why did God surprise me today with this consolation, during something I do frequently? I have no idea, but I sure was grateful.
From there I dashed about doing my work at breakneck pace, relying entirely on my own schemes and priorities. And after a couple of hours, I noticed how tired I was. Where did that sawdust feeling inside come from? I found myself complaining and thinking negatively. Whiplash! I was down and discouraged.
I heard about a niece’s pregnancy, and I rejoiced in God’s gift of a new life to love. A warm feeling washed over me that I recognized as grace.
Then the headlines informed me that the world is full of bad news. Instead of praying for those reports, I started to despair for our country and world. I tried eating to make me feel better. Twang! Did I just bungee jump back into desolation?
If only I remembered St. Ignatius’s ideas about what to do at times like that! I’ve consolidated some of his ideas into five Ps that help me when I notice I’m having desolate moments:
- Pray more.
- Ponder how I got here.
- Do penance.
- Persist in choices made when things were good.
- Be patient, for consolation will eventually show up again.
I looked back on the last few hours, course-corrected, and took a prayer break. And as I pondered, I realized that I was so busy “doing God’s work” that I forgot for whom I was doing it.
I love how Ignatian spirituality gives me tools to fight the constant barrage I sometimes feel from one temptation or intrusion after another. It’s consoling to recall that God’s grace is sufficient for me.