Three Possible Causes of Spiritual Desolation

Have you ever had a slump in your spiritual walk? You’re praying and reading your Bible regularly but all of a sudden you feel like you’ve hit a brick wall. I’ve been there.

I was reading a book by Fr. Mitch Pacwa called “How to Listen When God is Speaking.” I really was just browsing through it since we had it in the store and I wanted to see what it was about. In a chapter where he was discussing Ignatius of Loyola he talked about desolation. He described it this way:

“The soul feels turmoil and darkness and an inclination to what is low and earthly. Many disturbances and temptations make the person restless, and this leads to a lack of faith, hope, and charity. The soul feels sluggish, slothful, sad, and separated from God. The spiritual life is tepid or lukewarm and does not bring joy or peace.” (58)

Ignatius offers three reasons why a Christian might experience desolation. Fr. Pacwa explains:

“First, some people become tepid in devotion or lazy about doing spiritual exercises or even downright negligent. Of course, it is easy to let the busyness of the day get in the way of doing spiritual exercises such as daily prayer, Mass, or the Rosary. However, when we become neglectful, we should remember that missing our time with God is truly missing out on life’s joy, and its omission will contribute to a desolate state in our souls.

The second reason for desolation is that God desires to test us. Though a person may not have done anything wrong, the Lord wants to see how far we will extend ourselves in serving and praising him, even when we do not receive consolations in return for our efforts. This type of testing gives us greater strength, even in the midst of anxiety and spiritual emptiness.

The third reason for desolation is to make it clear to us that we cannot maintain or create spiritual consolations—including increases of faith, hope, or love or experiences of tears and joy—simply by human means. At times God wants us to become more strongly aware that these consolations are truly gifts of his grace and not merely humanly devised techniques for good spiritual health. This type of desolation reminds us that we are truly in a relationship with a sovereign God and that we cannot manufacture spiritually by our own wits and power. Such experiences can prevent religious and spiritual people from becoming prideful and being tempted to think that they are better than others. Desolation reminds such people that we all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We all depend not on ourselves but on God’s mercy, love, and grace.” (62-64)

I especially enjoyed the third reason. We can often try to live a certain kind of life with the expectation that if I do A,B and C God will obviously reward me with X. Pacwa describes it perfectly as “devised techniques for good spiritual health.” We might think that if we are faithful in a “quiet time” and church attendance then God will certainly provide us with a good life and lots of blessings. Hard times will be minimal and only last for a short time (day or two at most). The faithful won’t lose their jobs or homes or a child.

If you live long enough you will experience spiritual desolation. Don’t wait till you’re in the middle of it to try to figure it out. Prepare now for it. Another good book on this is Spiritual Depression by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.


About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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2 Responses to Three Possible Causes of Spiritual Desolation

  1. Daniel Lute says:

    As a side note to the issue of depression, I found that Loyola also had a deep desire to understand and visualize the Holy Trinity which became the passion of his life. Unmet spiritual yearnings are a great cause of depression in my own life.



  2. Gary says:

    Thanks for this post. I needed it.



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