Can I Be in Consolation and Desolation at the Same Time?

young woman looking down at snowBriefly stated, consolation is a state in which a person is growing in faith, hope, and love. Desolation is a state in which a person is diminishing in faith, hope, and love. Some people think of consolation as moving toward God and desolation as moving away from God. However, we cannot really move away from God—God is always present, and, as Psalm 139 says, we cannot do anything or go anywhere to escape God’s presence. It’s probably more accurate to say that, when in consolation, I engage with God’s presence, and, when in desolation, I resist God’s presence.

Can they happen at the same time? Logically speaking, that doesn’t seem possible. But because we are complex and often deceive ourselves and don’t recognize what is happening within us, it’s possible that, at one level, a person is engaging with God—is in consolation—but in other aspects of life, she or he is resisting God.

What is important to understand is that emotions are not the only indicators of consolation and desolation. Often, when we are in consolation, we not only grow in faith, hope, and love, but we feel the effects of this: our hearts overflowing with gratitude, joy, and peace. When in desolation, on the other hand, we often feel its effects: hopelessness, resentment, despair, and so on.

However, when we engage with God and embrace whatever God has given us to do, this sometimes brings us trouble, just as it has brought trouble to prophets and preachers, Jesus and his disciples. While doing what is right, we suffer because there are forces resisting us. This does not feel good—in fact, we can feel quite desolate as we suffer for all the right reasons. Yet we are in consolation, because we are doing what is in harmony with God’s work in the world.

Also, we can feel pretty good while we are decreasing in faith, hope, and love. Perhaps I am resisting God, and I use activities—even otherwise good ones—to distract myself from that fact. I go to the movies, do some shopping, hang out with friends, eat too much, or drink too much. I may feel good in the moment, but I am in desolation because my engagement with God is weak, and I am not growing stronger in faith, hope, or love.

Prayer is the best way to understand if you are in consolation or desolation. Honest prayer will help you understand if you have closed your heart to God for some reason. Prayer will bring you peace as you do the right thing, even when it’s causing you grief. Prayer will gently warn you that you are avoiding God’s invitation and thus growing weaker in your faith, hope, and love.

I recommend spiritual direction to those struggling to figure out desolation and consolation. A good spiritual director can help you explore, with honesty and mercy, what is happening within you.

Photo by Matthew T. Rader on Unsplash.

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Vinita Hampton Wright
Vinita Hampton Wright edited books for 32 years, retiring in 2021. She has written various fiction and non-fiction books, including the novel Dwelling Places and spirituality books Days of Deepening Friendship, The Art of Spiritual Writing, Small Simple Ways: An Ignatian Daybook for Healthy Spiritual Living, and, most recently, Set the World on Fire: A 4-Week Personal Retreat with the Female Doctors of the Church. Vinita is a spiritual director and continues to facilitate retreats and write fiction and nonfiction. She lives with her husband, two dogs, and a cat in Springdale, Arkansas.


  1. “I recommend spiritual direction to those struggling to figure out desolation and consolation. A good spiritual director can help you explore, with honesty and mercy, what is happening within you” Thanks Vinita for this advice. It has been the best thing that has happened to me these last four years. So when my SD told me he was being reassigned by his order to Rome for 3-6 years, I felt bad. But I chose to ask him who he’d recommend. Now I’ve got two names. I’ve decided to call one of the two and see if she feels right. If yes, I move forward to a new SD. Do you see the consolation and desolation in this experience of finding, losing and finding again (possibly) a new spiritual director? How I can be in consolation and desolation at the same time? Just this morning, doing my examen, I was moved to tears of joy at how God fills me with laughter and tears at the same time. Amazing how His grace (consolaation) and love (desolation) can both be present at the same time. So I definitely need to make an appointment with a spiritual director. Do pray it be this week. Reply if you want an update, Vinita@

  2. I feel a great need and longing for spiritual direction. Im not sure how to get this to happen.I pray for this if its Gods will for me .I pray I will recognize the person or opportunity if it arises. I’ve joined a women’s Bible study but I suspect I have trust issues.Perhaps I just need to be patient.

  3. I view desolation as a dryness where God’s Presence seems unavailable, where one cannot feel God’s love. One can be in desolation without “resisting” anything. St. Teresa of Kolkatta said she was in this darkness for most of her life.

    • Carolyn, you make a good point, and I’m grateful you posted. Both consolation and desolation can come without any cause on our part. Perhaps I’ll write a follow-up piece to clarify this.

  4. Wow! You read me today! Fighting to go forward yet considering changes in decisions which complicate things. Time to enter prayer!


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