Listening for God When We’re Stuck

man looking deep in thought - stuck - text: Listening for GodHave you ever had a moment when desolation hit you so hard you felt like you were stuck in the mud? Just a few weeks ago, I rode the wave of creative energy for several days in a row. Words poured out of me as I wrote talks for a retreat. More words came as I dug into another writing project. I can remember feeling the lightness and joy of living a call and thanking God for the ease of the process.

Then, BAM! The wall of desolation hit out of the blue in the middle of my creative wave one afternoon. I suddenly felt a heaviness come over me. Not only did it feel as if I were stuck in the mud, but my mind could no longer seem to create a clear thought. The lightness and joy I felt were replaced with doubt, heaviness, and confusion. I literally felt like I was stuck with no way out. My former words of thanking God for the call turned to groans of, “Why in the world did you ask me to do this? I am not cut out for this.”

I kept trying to push my way through or find a way out of the desolation. It felt like quicksand as the more I pushed, the more it swallowed me. Finally, completely defeated, I turned my computer off, walked away from my desk, and plopped on my couch, letting out an exasperated sigh. I sat silently grumbling.

As I sat there, a line a friend had texted me from Psalm 40 came into my mind. It was a psalm we both prayed with before, but we really appreciated the recent translation he found as we are both from Louisiana, and it referred to the swamp. The verse that entered my mind read:

God drew me out of the pit of destruction,
Out of the mud of the swamp,
Set my feet upon rock,
Steadied my steps. (Psalm 40:2)

When my friend texted me this verse a few days earlier, I immediately thought what a great description it was of the way God helps us out of desolation, especially when it is at the point of swallowing us. I repeated the line over to myself a few times, and I began to chuckle at how much it felt like I was in the Louisiana swamp that afternoon, trying to make my way through the thick, muddy waters of doubt and desolation.

The words of the psalm reminded me, though, that I did not have to stay stuck in the muddy swamp of desolation. The Holy Spirit would draw me out of it and steady my steps again. Even as I named this realization, heaviness began lifting a bit. Understanding I was stuck in the mud of desolation, I ran through St. Ignatius’s rules, the same ones I offer in spiritual direction meetings when people find themselves in desolation:

  • Never change anything when in desolation. Stay the course.
  • Do not keep it secret. Name it to God. Name it to trusted friends.
  • Beg God to get you out of it.
  • Pray more.
  • Work against it.

I not only named the desolation to myself, but I began asking God fervently to help me get out of desolation. I texted two trusted friends to ask for their prayers as well. While the feeling of being stuck did not dissipate right away, there was a slow lifting up of my spirit over the next few hours. At bedtime, I talked to God more about all I was facing and feeling. As I did, I realized that there was no surprise desolation reared its head after a long, creative burst of energy and consolation. As I fell asleep that night, I knew what I had to do the next day. Work against the desolation by doing the very thing I was called to do—write.

That’s what I did the next morning after my normal morning prayer time and getting my kids on the bus—I sat down and made myself write. As my fingers hit the keys, I felt a surge of energy as the words that I thought had surely left me the day before returned. I typed a bit more, and as I did, I felt Psalm 40 take shape—God pulling me out of the mud of the swamp, setting my feet upon rock, and steadying my steps to once again say yes to my God-given call.

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Becky Eldredge
Becky Eldredge is a writer and spiritual director in Baton Rouge, LA. The author of Busy Lives & Restless Souls and The Inner Chapel, Becky holds Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Education from Louisiana State University and a Masters in Pastoral Studies from Loyola University New Orleans. She has her Certificate in Spiritual Direction from Spring Hill College. Becky has been involved in ministry for more than 15 years, with the majority of her work in retreat ministry and adult faith formation. While ministry is one of her passions, her greatest joy is sharing life with her husband, Chris, and her children, Brady, Abby, and Mary.


  1. The Holy Spirit has acted on my hubby’s desolation. He was out of work for a short time and I could see he was a little crabby at its worst. But rather than dwell on that ” state” he turned into his creative mode. Just the other day he said, I’d rather “write” all that’s flowing from my creative mind rather than sulk in self-pity. He may not even know it but that’s what St. Ignatius is telling us not to change the course when we”re
    stuck in the mud so to speak.
    Now, what came out of that creative mind will be set into motion in the form of a musical concert.
    Thank God!

  2. As I sat here reading your brilliant article, Becky, plus all the great comments, I burst out laughing. My feelings of self-pity, being drowned in the darkness of ‘writer’s block’ and the heaviness of procrastination, have somehow miraculously lifted knowing that I am no longer alone as a struggling writer. Thank you.

  3. It is often in those barren, confusing times that in retrospect I see the Lord calling me to practice what I encourage others to do … to walk by faith, to trust Jesus’ unseen presence in my storm and rest in God’s love. He is often releasing me from our cultural focus on productivity and return my focus to love relationships, with Him and others. God is not withholding good, He is offering something better – Himself.

  4. This is just what I needed, as I have been going through a time of desolation. I happened to “stumble” upon your site while searching for something else. Of course, it was not by chance! I would like to read more of your insights!

  5. Thanks for the reminder, Becky. I needed to hear this today. I can easily connect with your writing. Keep it up!

  6. I recall a passage from Teresa of Avilia who said some days she felt she could conquer anything and the next day she couldn’t defeat a little ant. If someone in her stature could experience this kind of desolation. Then We are in good company.I’m old enough now to understand it is all part of the journey of life and we are all more alike than different in many respects.She said to spend many days in the room of self- knowledge but sometimes we don’t have a choice. It’s all part of our schooling. I’m 71 now and still learning to be open to everything that knocks on my door.

  7. Becky,
    Thank you. The experience of desolation is no fun (understatement) and your description of your recent Ignatius inspired journey from desolation to consolation was a great reminder to me today. Thanks for sharking.

  8. You spoke to me as a spouse caregiver with a wife with Alzheimers… I too have had writing blocks,but your mention of desolation went to the challenge for patience a caregiver goes through 24/7… This is going in a help or reminder notebook… Keep writing… Your articles in the past have inspired and helped!!!

  9. Thank you Becky. I often wonder why God cannot keep me on a high forever. To appreciate the high I have to go through the low too. I have to walk through the swamp, to be planted on firm rock. I shall try to remember that everytime and pray.

  10. Nice one Becky. Desolation often lacks stamina. It may come, but surely it vanishes into thin air in no time. Saint Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us.

  11. I have felt desolation thru Holy Week. I tried to change my mind about moving this year. I had decided 18 months ago, to move this summer. With the help of friends, I remembered not to change decisions made in consolation… when desolation arrives. Thank you for letting me witness with you. So glad you’re writing again!!! 👍

  12. I worked in Louisiana for eight years and the swamp often figured in my meditation. Thank you for this reflection. I, too, am a writer and am grateful for a fellow Ignatian traveler.

  13. Great reflection and way to go at paying attention, Becky!
    I love how God inspired you to remember the line from Psalm 40 when you needed it.
    God is full of surprises. Thank you for providing a concrete example from every day life of how desolation and consolation work.

  14. Becky, this is exactly what I needed to read today. The last few days,I have been fighting against the muddy clay here in the Carolinas! Perhaps now with the tools you gave And with Jesus patiently waiting to take my hand,I might just crawl out… Thank you!


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