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spiritual fitness

where are you, Lord?   
what to do when you can’t find God in prayer

Feeling nothing in prayer lately? Has the well run dry? Do you pray and feel like you’re just talking to yourself? Have you ever been tempted to think that God doesn’t even exist?

Could you imagine it happening to Mother Teresa of Calcutta? It did. It can happen to anyone!

In 1942, while on her annual retreat, Mother Teresa made a vow to give herself completely to Christ - “To give God anything that he may ask ... not to refuse him anything.” Four years later, she was on a train to Darjeeling when she heard Jesus call her to serve the poorest of the poor in Calcutta. She experienced a locution and vision. A locution is when a person hears the voice of God, either interiorly or physically. Mother Teresa said she actually heard the voice of Jesus and saw him. “Wouldst thou not help?” Jesus asked her. “How can I?” Mother Teresa responded. She was afraid and uncertain. Repeatedly he asked her, “Wilt thou refuse? You have become my spouse for my love. You have come to India for me. The thirst you had for souls brought you so far. Are you afraid now to take one more step for your spouse, for me, for souls?” And again, “I want Indian nuns, Missionaries of Charity, who would be my fire of love amongst the poor, the sick, the dying and the little children ...” Mother Teresa, with difficulty, said “yes.” For the next year she experienced an intense union with Jesus. As St. Paul said, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” She was immersed in a river of joy.

But then it all ended.

As Mother Teresa began her work in Calcutta, she no longer heard Jesus speak to her. Her inner consolation was gone. There followed 50 years of darkness and spiritual dryness. She experienced doubt, and a feeling of deep abandonment by God. He seemed absent, heaven empty, and her own suffering seemed to count for nothing. It was “... just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing.” Amazingly, only a few people knew of her struggle! She continued to do God’s will without any sense of consolation or help. She continued to make the world a more beautiful place by her faith, hope and deep love.

Mother Teresa persevered in her intense prayer life even though she felt nothing. She lived Jesus’ word. She discovered Jesus and loved him in the distressing disguise of the poor. She knew him in the Eucharist. She loved him in everyone she met. Mother Teresa was not declared blessed because she had great experiences in prayer but because she practiced heroic virtue.

The experience of Mother Teresa teaches us that darkness and spiritual dryness are a normal part of our spiritual journey to God.

In her case, theologians may see her spiritual darkness as a deep sharing in Jesus’ redemptive suffering. Her darkness brought Christ’s light to millions. Her dryness brought Christ’s dew to countless thirsting souls. She often said, “[I want] to quench Christ’s thirst for love and for souls.”

So for us, as tough as spiritual darkness is, understanding that it has a purpose can help us get through it.

Why does God allow this? Why does it happen? Mostly because God loves us so much that he wills us perfect happiness. We can only be perfectly happy if we are in union with God. So, when we put other things before God in our lives, we shortchange ourselves. We miss out. It is actually possible for someone to become attached to spiritual highs. We can get attached to the emotional feelings of prayer. If that happens, prayer has lost its focus. We are praying for the comfort rather than for union with the source of all comfort - God. Spiritual dryness is God’s remedy for this.

God brings us into the desert to “dry out” from the things that are not of God.

Scripture says Jesus was anointed with the Spirit and the Spirit led Jesus into the desert. God also led the people of Israel into the desert but was very much with them.

This may be one of the most difficult things for us to understand. We are in a society that says if you are not feeling well, take a pill. But for spiritual fitness, we need to realize that God is at work in us especially during the dry times. If we accept these dry times and are true to the Gospel, Jesus promises that rivers of living water will flow from us.

“Whoever drinks the water that I give will never thirst; no, the water I give shall become a fountain within leaping up to provide eternal life.” (Jn 3:14)

Spiritual Exercises
Dealing with dryness

1 Spiritual dryness is meant to purify us. If one is going through a time of dryness, it is a good thing to examine one’s conscience. I have known situations where dryness was directly related to sin. A person sinned and got off the path to Jesus, and then they lost the feeling that God was with them. Sin separates us from God, so this is a very real experience. Dryness in this case leads to deeper repentance. Pray for contrition and sorrow for the sin. The sacrament of reconciliation can lift this kind of dryness quickly.

2 Spiritual dryness can be a symptom of mediocrity or lukewarmness in our spiritual life.
Sometimes dryness occurs because one is not praying. Allow the dryness to tug you to a deeper, more fervent relationship with God. Renew your commitment to God in a formal way. Retreats can be very helpful. Now, if one is not aware of any serious moral defect and one is still experiencing dryness in prayer, then God is purifying in a deeper way. Persevere in prayer! Remain firm in faith. Make time for prayer and keep it. You may have to change how you are praying. The goal is not to end the dryness, but to do God’s will - to love what God loves - and to serve as God calls us to serve. I would suggest getting some spiritual direction. Marywood Retreat Center in Jacksonville may be able to help you find a spiritual director in your area. Read St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis de Sales or other saints who have experience with dryness. There are good books available from authors who have worked as spiritual directors for many years. When the Well Runs Dry, by Jesuit Father Thomas Green, is a good book for this subject. Remember, dryness in prayer could be the very thing God wills for you in order to help you grow. Do not lose heart.

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