Thanking God for the Dryness

The Floor of Death Valley – By Paxson Woelber (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

So many people have written about spiritual dryness in ways far superior to what I could probably do. Jennifer Fulwiler wrote recently about it, describing it as a mid-life crisis that, at the root, is about a growing understanding that God is the only thing we will have left in the end:

At least for me, a mid-life crisis is nothing more or less than a realization that every day brings us a little closer to that point when all we have left is God, and that we may be closer to that point than we thought we were. It sounds kind of depressing, like something I’d shout into the phone at Joe at 3 PM when I’m exhausted and the baby won’t nap and someone just spilled yogurt on the wall (“ALL I HAVE LEFT IS GOD!!!”), but it’s really quite inspiring. To go through a mid-life crisis and to come out the other side is to go through a process of purification, in which you accept the things that are gone, and realize that they were were never the source of true happiness to begin with.

Her collection of posts on spiritual dryness has been inspiring to me, and really helpful on a number of levels. For one, I had never heard of this idea (or a “Dark Night of the Soul,” as Saint John of the Cross described it) until about 8 years ago, when I was describing to a friend my horrible experiences with hyperemesis and the deep depression I felt the second time through it. I’d been blessed with great consolations in my faith as a child, and when I lacked them during my second pregnancy, it was panic-inducing.

…While I had great hope each day when I was pregnant with Big Girl, it was not so this time. When the HG struck me, I went into a deep depression. My OB sent me directly to the same high-risk OB as last time, and I was put on Thorazine right away. This time, though, it didn’t work as well. Whereas, with Big Girl, each night I went to sleep thinking that the next day might be better, this time I went to sleep thinking, “I have 20 weeks of this hell to get through.” It was devastating to my Faith. I knew God was there, but I felt abandoned. I could not feel Him there at all. I could not even pray. I brought my father to tears when I asked him why God was punishing me. I never, ever considered abortion with either pregnancy, but this time I would wish for miscarriage just so the pain would end. …

Only later, when talking about it with a friend, did I ever hear of spiritual dryness or dark nights. While I had never doubted God was there, many times the only thing I could think of when I wanted to pray was part of Psalm 22: My God, my God! Why have You forsaken me?

And yet, once she mentioned this to me, I began to see it in other places, too. Many saints experienced the same thing, and when I learned that Blessed Mother Teresa had a dark night of the soul that lasted nearly 40 years, it brought me to tears. Here was a woman, I thought, who never doubted God’s existence and worked to fulfill His will for her, even when she had no consolations. It’s a comfort to know that not only ordinary people, but even those we look to as saints, experience this dryness.

By Tom Bayly from England (British Night Sky Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

This past Lent, I began to feel this spiritual dryness. Occasionally, I’d get a break-through of emotion and feel graces flowing, but most, it’s been dry. I feel rotten about my own prayer because it feels so rote. I don’t feel as though I’m growing spiritually, and it’s a struggle to fulfill even the most basic of spiritual tasks.

It’s Easter, and all my Catholic friends are rejoicing and Alleluia-ing everywhere. And I’m here struggling to get to evening Mass or sit through Adoration. I pray “Alleluia” during Lauds and Vespers, but I don’t feel it. I know He is Risen (truly, He is risen!), and yet my heart doesn’t feel it.

And yet I know that if I persevere in prayer and continue to feed my soul by going to Mass when I don’t feel like it, praying a Rosary when I’m not in the mood, maintaining my morning and evening prayers, that this is like watering and feeding plants during a drought: the roots will grow deeper and stronger, and when the drought is over, big things can happen.

Saint Thomas Aquinas

And so I’m trying to thank God for the dryness I’m still experiencing. If I keep going, I will grow in maturity. If I maintain and pray anyway, I will grow stronger. If I wait on the Lord, He will not disappoint. I know this. And what I’m also grateful for is that I even know this. It’s such a help to understand that it’s not bad that spiritual dryness happens. It’s not my fault. It’s not wrong. It’s okay. God is here with me in the darkness, even if I can’t see Him. The words of Saint Thomas Aquinas – though meant to describe the Eucharist – also apply here:

Faith for all defects supplying,
Where the feeble senses fail.

At some point, I’m sure that consolation will return, and I’ll cry tears of joy for it. But in the meantime, I’m going to keep feeding my soul whether I feel it or not. And I’ll thank God for His mercy and love, even when I don’t feel it readily.

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