Consolation and Desolation Whiplash

Consolation and Desolation - words illustrated by drama masks

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:

  1. Pray more.
  2. Ponder how I got here.
  3. Do penance.
  4. Persist in choices made when things were good.
  5. 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.


Join in 31 Days with St. Ignatius with today’s entry, Resting in the Lord’s Gaze by Marina McCoy. Follow along everyday this month here and on social media with #31DayswithIgnatius.

About Loretta Pehanich 38 Articles
Loretta Pehanich is a spiritual director and author of Fleeting Moments: Praying When You Are Too Busy. She is involved with the Center for Ignatian Spirituality in Sacramento and its program in giving the Spiritual Exercises. She has more than 20 years of experience in ministry, including retreat work and small group leadership. Loretta currently works as a fundraiser in Sacramento. She and her husband have four children and nine grandchildren.

11 Comments on Consolation and Desolation Whiplash

  1. LORETTA,why would you need me to help with a retreat when you are a natural.
    Your insight is amazing. Let me be one of the retreat attendees!!!

  2. What a helpful reflection; the examples ring absolutely true to me! I have also found that sometimes making a brief moment for a “colloquy” with Jesus (or with some other person that has been important in recent prayer) helps when I first experience spiritual whiplash. It only takes 30 seconds or so, but can make a big difference keeping connected with formal prayer periods and examens.

  3. Thank you so much for your personal insights on the workings of the soul. It reminded of what Fr. Dave Finch SJ (RIP) used to say: “the zig-zag lines are like monkeys in a tree. The jump from branch to branch and make a lot noise.”
    His suggestion was not to try to domesticate them. Just be aware that they are there and purposefully move on to a more peaceful and beautiful flower garden.
    Blessings, Henry

  4. This post is so true to life! I have felt the way you describe – all in one day – many times. I love the practical suggestions for how to cope (the 5 “P”‘s) and will give them a try. Your insights are always valuable.

  5. Loretta-
    How insightful and well said!! Each day is so full of emotional “ups,downs, sideways movements, bright lights and some shade.” The 5 “P’s” are so important as you say. I find that the answer to point number 2 can be elusive and so I ask the Creator in that moment – “what is it you are trying to say in this experience of discomfort?” The simple act of asking the question reminds me I am not alone and gently nudges me forward in greater awareness of God’s loving presence.
    Thank you.

  6. Loretta, love the thought be patient for consolation shall show up again. I have learned so much about desolation and consolation through this wonderful website. May you have a most blessed summer!

  7. How true. We are called to live in the world but not be ‘of the world.’ Perhaps the pangs we feel as we experience and witness brokenness are reminders that this world is not our home so that we can never be entirely comfortable, keeping us close to our true source of life.

  8. Something easy for anybody to condsider every day. Beautifly stated. Thank you for starting my weekend off on sold ground.

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