Our prayer lives are ever-changing like the ocean. Sometimes our prayer lives are vibrant and glistening with the clarity of a moment of consolation. In these moments, the fruits of the Spirit are often as obvious as the sun shining brightly on the water, reflecting the radiance of God’s love. Sometimes our prayer lives are choppy, windy, and turbulent, like an ocean during a storm. In these times, we might find ourselves very clearly in a moment of desolation, where our prayer lives may be full of feelings of doubt, fear, and uncertainty. St. Ignatius offers many suggestions on what to do in times of consolation and desolation.
What about the times in our prayer lives, though, when it is hard to name if we are in a moment of consolation or desolation? What about the times when our prayer lives look on the surface like a calm ocean with a tranquil breeze, when we are steadily showing up to prayer, but it is hard to name where we are in the ebb and flow? We will hit periods like this where we are not sure if anything is happening within our prayer or where it is hard to name the fruits of our prayer.
Discernment during a period of prayer with no obvious moments of consolation or desolation can be challenging. Just as a moment of obvious desolation can cause us to question or doubt, the moments of what feels like no interior movement can also cause us to question or doubt our prayer lives. What do we do when we hit a period of prayer like this?
First and foremost, we keep showing up to prayer and to our time with God. Second, I often find, it is helpful to lean on a prayer tool that can help us name the fruits of our prayer. Two of my favorites are the Examen and a Litany of Gratitude. Being intentional about praying the Examen in a dry period of prayer helps us to name the outward fruits of our prayer. While we may not feel the fruits of our prayer inwardly, the Examen can help us see outward signs of God working through us, within us, and through others.
The same is true for offering a Litany of Gratitude. Running through all that we are thankful for in our lives and all the ways God helps us in our day-to-day actions serves as a reminder that God is active and present in our lives, even if we are struggling to feel God within our prayer. A wise spiritual director once challenged me to try this prayer method of offering a Litany of Gratitude when I was struggling to feel God. She invited me to name the outward fruits of my ministry work even though I was not feeling God as I did my work nor was I feeling God within prayer during that time. This prayer method helped me see that God was still working in my life.
Both the Examen and offering a Litany of Gratitude can be powerful tools when our prayer lives hit that smooth calm, like when the ocean’s surface is still. Naming the outward signs of our prayer can help us to stay committed to returning to prayer and to a decision we previously discerned. Just as the obvious swing from consolation and desolation will always be part of our prayer lives, so are the moments when we feel like nothing is happening. In these times, we can lean on prayer tools that will help us realize that God is drawing us deeper into our relationship with God.